Swinging for the Fences | Sports Destination Management

Swinging for the Fences

May 12, 2021 | By: Peter Francesconi

The Blue Chips captured gold at the 2018 USA Baseball 16U Cup at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. Image courtesy of USA Baseball
Baseball, of course,  is played around the world, but nowhere is it more popular than in the U.S. With teams, leagues and tournaments for players of all genders and ages, the sport offers key benefits to all who play. There are the obvious health and fitness benefits — the sport will burn calories, improve hand-eye coordination, strengthen muscles and sharpen the mind. But it also builds the idea of teamwork, particularly for youngsters, along with a sense of community.

For top-notch communities and locations for baseball tournaments and events, these locations can hit it out of the park.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

From small tournaments to major events, the Ann Arbor area attracts both sports enthusiasts and participants with it’s easy accessibility, a range of sports venues and a variety of off-the-field entertainment options. “Washtenaw County has become a primary tournament destination for youth baseball and softball over the years,” says Mike Malach, the executive director of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission. “Our area is very popular with families.”

Among facilities for baseball tournaments and events are the Ray Fisher Stadium at the University of Michigan, with a full artificial turf field with seating for 4,000 fans and Oestrike Stadium at Eastern Michigan University, with an artificial turf infield, accommodate 1,800 fans. 

EMU also offers multiple diamonds in a cloverleaf setup, with seating for about 800, restrooms, parking, concessions, covered dugouts for each field and adjustable outfield dimensions. Ypsilanti Community Center Fields is another cloverleaf diamond setup, with seating for 400, restrooms, parking, concessions and dugouts. In addition, Lincoln Consolidated School district has seven fields of various dimensions and Chelsea School District has five fields.

Malach says the region has hosted baseball tournaments ranging from 12 to 80 teams, along with NCAA and conference tourneys at both universities. “This year, we have a full weekend schedule starting in early May through late August,” he notes.

El Paso, Texas

Citywide, El Paso offers more than 40 fields for baseball, including Southwest University Park, home of the El Paso Chihuahuas Minor League Baseball, affiliated with the San Diego Padres. 

The El Paso County Sportspark is a state-of-the-art 45-acre facility that consist of a 10-field lighted complex (with six fields measuring at 300 feet with 70-foot bases, three diamonds at 150 to 180 feet, and one at 200 feet). The park, which has batting cages, a pro shop, concessions and an upstairs restaurant, can easily accommodate 200-team tournaments.

Other multi-field facilities include the Joey Barraza and Vino Memorial Park, with four lighted 300-foot fields with 80-foot baselines; Blackie Chesher Park with five lighted fields, including a full-size diamond (420 feet to center and 360-foot lines); and Marty Robbins Park, with four lighted, 300-foot fields with 70-foot baselines. Being completed in phases is the $48 million “Beast” Urban Park, which will include more diamonds.

“El Paso has a long, rich legacy of baseball that dates to the 1890s,” says Brooke Underwood of Visit El Paso. “This city has always found excitement in the sport and wholeheartedly supports the game. That passion remains today all the way down to the Little League level.”

Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Elizabethtown Sports Park is a true destination for baseball events, offering 12 total diamonds, all with lights, in three turfed quads. The facility is centrally located in the Southeast, just minutes south of Louisville, Kentucky.

The city of Elizabethtown invested nearly $30 million to create this one-of-a-kind park, which includes three large pavilions for ceremonies, event and meetings; officials’ meeting room; officials’ locker rooms; Miracle Field; family restrooms; plenty of parking; playgrounds with misters; bus parking and parkwide Wi-Fi.

Elizabethtown Sports Park recently hired Todd Yancey as its general manager. He comes to the facility with extensive experience in youth and amateur travel sports and is expected to build on the state-of-the-art tournament facility, which was recently named “Facility of the Year” by the Kentucky Recreation and Parks Society. 

“We expect Todd will elevate the already outstanding reputation Elizabethtown Sports Park has in the region and country,” says Jack Adams, vice president of The Sports Facilities Management, which manages the Sports Park. “We look forward to seeing him bring creative programs and events to Elizabethtown for both local residents and out-of-town visitors.”

Harford County, Maryland

In Aberdeen, Maryland, youth baseball is all about The Ripken Experience. Situated along the I-95 corridor, The Ripken Experience Aberdeen features replicas of some of the most notable MLB ballparks, including the crown jewel, “Cal Sr.’s Yard,” a two-thirds scale replica of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In total, there are eight fields (both natural grass and turf), all modeled after MLB parks, including replicas of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Two new fields (CITI and PNC) are being built, with openings planned for later this year.

The pinnacle event each year is the Blue Crab Week-Long Experience in July, featuring a week of baseball for more than 40 teams and a special night under the lights at Cal Sr.’s Yard, with appearances by Cal and Bill Ripken. Throughout the year, The Ripken Experience has sold out tournaments, which can range from 50 to 60 teams visiting the venue each weekend. This year, the Baseball for All event, also in July, is slated to be the largest girls’ baseball tournament in the U.S.

“At The Ripken Experience, we offer the most unforgettable family baseball memories,” says Jon Rowland, senior manager of marketing & analytics. “Obviously, the players and experience on-field will always come first, but we’re always focused on innovation and making our events a true and welcome experience for the entire family.”

Huntsville, Alabama

For baseball events in the Huntsville area, Palmer Park, managed by the nearby City of Madison Parks & Recreation, offers 13 youth baseball fields (and six softball fields), and is just three miles from the Huntsville International Airport. This summer, Palmer Park will again host the annual Dizzy Dean State Tournament, which brings in about 1,600 players, with an economic impact of more than $1.2 million. 

Charger Park, managed by the University of Alabama–Huntsville, offers diamonds for both baseball and softball, with press boxes, onsite locker rooms and bleacher seating. And six fields, mainly for softball but offering portable fencing, are available at Huntsville’s Metro Kiwanis Sportsplex, which also has covered dugouts on all fields.

“Toyota Field, in Madison, is our masterpiece,” says Mark McCarter, with the Huntsville/Madison County CVB. “It opens this May [2021] as the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.” Toyota Field can accommodate 7,000 spectators, with fixed seating for 5,000. 

“Huntsville’s location is a great selling point,” adds McCarter. “We’re at the northern border of Alabama, a 3.5-hour drive from Atlanta to the east and Memphis to the west, and less than two hours from Nashville, Birmingham and Chattanooga.”

Mobile, Alabama

The top baseball facility in Mobile is the city-owned, 6,000-seat Hank Aaron Stadium, opened in 1997 and was the home stadium for the AA Mobile Bay Bears until 2019. From February through August, the venue hosts high school and college games and tournaments. If needed for larger events, the Mobile Sports Authority (MSA) also can access the University of South Alabama’s Stanky Field and the University of Mobile’s Jacobs Field. “We’ve also run tournaments out of Matthews, Mims and Westside Parks,” notes Danny Corte, the executive director of the MSA.

Mobile County has hosted many Babe Ruth state and regional tournaments for different age groups, featuring up to 35 teams. “In August 2019, we hosted the Babe Ruth 16-18 World Series Tournament at Jacobs Field and Hank Aaron Stadium,” says Corte. “We’re scheduled to host the same Babe Ruth 16-18 World Series event for a week this August, entirely at Hank Aaron Stadium.”

Corte notes that five MLB hall-of-famers have come out of Mobile: Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Ozzie Smith. “Mobile has a long and steep baseball tradition,” he says. “We’re very proud that these baseball legends have called Mobile home.”

Panama City Beach, Florida

The Panama City Beach Sports Complex, which opened in 2019, offers 10 immaculately maintained AstroTurf baseball fields — five suitable for high school play and five for younger players. Portable fencing can be set up for 8U through 12U, and fields can also host fastpitch softball. (Portable fencing also can be used on the bigger fields, so PCBSC can easily host youth baseball tournaments on 10 fields). 

Importantly, the artificial turf fields feature Z-Cap cooling technology. “It helps release moisture when the fields heat up, so it cools down the turf,” says PCBSC General Manager Jamie Cox. “We’ve never had heat complaints about the turf here.” In addition, all fields are playable within 20 minutes after a rain, and all fields have LED lighting.

PCBSC can deliver huge events, with 100 or more teams. The facility also features seven batting cages, umpire locker room and lounge, Championship Field seating for 1,500, scoreboards on each field, concession areas and Wi-Fi. For events with more than 125 teams, PCBSC adds the five fields at Frank Brown Park, which also is owned by the Panama City Beach CVB.

“Our CVB wants to be partners with events,” says Cox, “and focuses on marketing and sponsorship opportunities. The CVB has been instrumental in the success of events coming into this area.”

Perry, Oklahoma

In 2015, the City of Perry invested in the community by building the Perry BMAC Baseball Complex, named in honor of local youth baseball star Brendon “BMAC” McLarty, who passed away tragically in 2012. The four-field facility features top-flight amenities perfect for hosting small- to medium-sized tournaments.

BMAC has played host to many 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U events, Little League tournaments and regional events. The Brendon McLarty Memorial Tournament, held in June, attracts teams from Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and more, in addition to Oklahoma. The complex can accommodate 200 fans in the stands and has a large, centrally located concessions area. Each field includes an LED scoreboard and has dugouts. BMAC is located just off I-35, and four national motels are within a half mile. 

“Experienced and dedicated facility maintenance volunteers and concession stand employees showcase the facility,” says City Manager Larry R. Pannell. “BMAC strives to set itself apart from other complexes, making sure people want to return to play here.”

Snohomish, Washington

“Due to our quality fields — youth, high school and college — the number of baseball tournaments has increased over the last two years,” says Tammy Dunn, the executive director of the Snohomish County Sports Commission.

The area offers a number of facilities for baseball events, including the four diamonds at the Phil Johnson Ballfields in Everett, which feature 200-foot fences, bullpens, scoreboards, lights, restrooms, concessions, seating for 400 fans, and plenty of other amenities. The Meadowdale Athletic Complex in Lynnwood has five fields of various dimensions, all with lights, and many with portable mounds and outfield fences. Silver River Park in Monroe also offers five youth baseball fields, with portable fencing, including a Miracle Field.

Edmonds College’s Triton Field in Lynnwood, which is a turf field, is suitable for high school and college baseball, with 418 feet to center field and 314 feet down the lines. The venue also has dugouts, lights concessions and restrooms. There are also lighted diamonds at area high schools. Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium is a minor league, artificial turf diamond with seating for 3,000, dugouts, bullpens, lights and more.

“The Snohomish County Sports Commission offer a variety of assistance to organizers, including finding additional baseball fields, creating a hotel web page and more,” says Dunn. “Organizers know we’re just a call away, to help create a memorable baseball tournament.” SDM

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