When the state tournament for amateur baseball comes around this summer, it’s going to be a special one. The Minnesota Baseball Association will be celebrating its 100th state tournament this year and four of the top ballparks in the entire state are already eager and excited to bring fans to enjoy games.
This year’s tournament will have games played at Delano Municipal Baseball Stadium, Saints Field in Dassel, and Optimist Park in Litchfield. Lions Field in Waconia will also host some of the Class B/A games over the first weekend as well.
Delano and Dassel-Cokato are no strangers to hosting the state tournament. Delano hosted the 2019 state tournament along with Maple Lake and D-C as the third site. Litchfield and D-C combined to host the 2016 state tournament.
All three organizations have already proven they know what it takes to pull off running a state tournament. They’ll have their biggest test yet though as they are ready for the challenge of hosting the 100th tournament in MBA history.
“With it being the 100th anniversary, it’s a big deal for everyone,” D-C’s Jordan Flick said. “We’ve hosted a few other times and I think we’re pretty well prepared for doing this one. We’re really excited about it. There’s a pretty big buzz going around. We’re super excited to host and we’re elated at the opportunity.”
The experience of hosting a big tournament is there for Delano and Dassel-Cokato, but for Litchfield, they are looking to make a name for themselves when it comes to hosting the big show.
“It means the world to us as a group,” Litchfield’s John Anderson said. “Being a location that hasn’t hosted a ton of tournaments in the past, it’s nice to be a part of it. 2016 really gave us a solid boost being the third site and showed us what it really takes to elevate ourselves to be in the conversion to host this one. There are so many awesome fields and parks across the state. To be able to partner with juggernauts like Dassel and Delano, it’s awesome. They have so much experience. The excitement is really high.”
Litchfield as an organization has put a ton of time and effort into their park. The Blues were part of the 2016 state tournament along with D-C and Hutchinson and also hosted the Region 12C Tournament this past summer. Fans can expect a new look to Optimist Park when they come to the state tournament as they’ve been hard at work improving the park over the past few seasons.
“The amount of upgrades has been pretty crazy,” Anderson said. “What we’ve been able to do the past five or six years is incredible. The big project was our covered grandstand. The first thing fans will notice is that pretty new grandstand. It’s a sight to see compared to what we used to have.”
Other new updates at Optimist Park include new netting around the field, a new sound system, changing the backstop from fence to stone, extended dugouts, extra room outside of the field, and improved bullpens. Optimist Park will also feature new seats under the grandstand that will be installed in June.
“The amount of work all three sites have put in is really impressive,” Anderson said. “We’ve really utilized the experience and knowledge from everybody. We’re excited for the teams that will be there and the fans as well as our community. We just want to make our experience better at the park. We recognize there are a lot of great parks and we always say why can’t that be us? That’s our motivation. A lot of these communities have really great fan bases that can enjoy it. That’s what we want and that’s what kind of pushes us.”
Lithcifeld will get a chance to show off Optimist Park to the state ahead of the state tournament as Fox 9 will be on-site for their annual Town Ball Tour Wednesday, June 28.
“We’ll really be able to showcase what we’ve done in the past two or three years,” Anderson said about Fox 9 coming to town. “That’s going to be that lead-up for us. Getting the local community involved and their support is important to us. These kinds of tournaments don’t run themselves and we need as many volunteers and support as possible. It’s perfect timing for us and it’s going to mix in well with the build-up we have going.”
The focus over the years for Litchfield has been on hosting this tournament, something they haven’t taken for granted or lightly.
“We’ve been listening to what people have had to say,” Anderson said. “Luckily we’ve been put in a place where we can respond and do many of those things. We wanted to put that all together to make it a better experience for the fans and players. We are just loaded up with projects and it’s all in preparation for this tournament. I told our board that every decision we make is with the state tournament in mind. Every decision we’ve made has been leading to this state tournament.”
While Litchfield is looking to emerge as one of the premier sites in amateur baseball, Delano and Dassel-Cokato have been at the top of the best ballparks for many years for most people.
“We take a lot of pride in our parks,” Flick said. “There’s been lists out there ranking all the parks. All I can say is we’re fortunate we have people who are really dedicated to upkeep on the park and making sure the playing conditions are tight. We have a very loyal fan base and volunteers that help with big events. We can’t thank them enough for the work that they do. It sounds cliche, but it really does take a village to put on a tournament like this. Our volunteers are great.”
For Saints Field in Dassel, many of their big projects and improvements came ahead of them hosting the state tournament in 2016. One of the top parks in the state, D-C hasn’t rested on its laurels as they continue to find ways to improve the player and fan experience.
“We had a lot of major upgrades to the park since we hosted in 2016,” Flick said. “We’re working on some more seating now. On the field itself, we’ve replaced some of the chain link fences in foul territory with really cool wooden boards that kind of give it a Field of Dreams-type feel. We also made a full turf warning track and it’s a little bit more reliable and less upkeep there that boards the outside of the field.”
Delano has also continued to work on improvements at their field as well. Last year a new deck was added outside of the left field and right field fences giving fans an entirely new and unique way to take in a game.
“We’re trying to leave no stone unturned,” Ryan Hayes said about preparing for the state tournament. “We’re always looking to up the ante. Some of the stuff is a little bit easier but we’re always trying to add more events and attractions between games. You’re always looking for volunteers and now we’re headed back to some of the same companies for advertising just a couple of years later. I would say preparing will be a lot of the same we’ve done but with a little extra on the marketing aspect of it.”
A big part of the focus for Delano and the other hosts for this tournament is getting new fans into the parks.
“We’re really trying to get those people who don’t know much about the game out,” Hayes said. “That’s kind of the key. We know who’s going to come out already and it’s all about how we can get other demographics out to the park and show them that this is a fun atmosphere that you need to be a part of.”
This upcoming tournament will be a special one for Hayes. Although he’s helped out in ways with some of the previous tournaments, being able to host the 100th anniversary means a lot to him because of how much townball has been a part of his life.
“For somebody who’s grown up with it, it means a lot to me,” he said. “Growing up, most people want to be a major league baseball player. I wanted to play town team baseball. I grew up in Maple Plain and my grandparents would take me to games every Sunday after church. It was always town ball. It was always so cool as a kid. In 1997 I was chasing foul balls at that tournament and now I’ve helped out with the last two we’ve hosted. This is super special to me. It’s really cool being in my 30s and seeing how far it has come.”
One aspect that Delano, D-C, and Litchfield all take pride in is having the North Star League be the center of this year’s state tournament. All three have been working tirelessly over the past few years and are excited to share what they have in store including the late addition of Lions Field in Waconia.
“It’s special for our teams and it’s special for our league,” Flick said. “We love our partners. They have great sites and were also really happy Waconia is there to help us out.
“We just jumped all in with them,” Hayes added. “Everyone was on board. They’ve been very easy to work with and we know what they’re capable of doing. Waconia kind of speaks for itself. That was a pretty easy choice to have them come on board as well.”
While all three sites have been working nonstop to pull off the tournament, the Minnesota Baseball Association as a whole has been too. The MBA has continued to find ways to make the tournament even better which is something that hasn’t been unnoticed by the hosts.
“That group is so open-minded about things,” Hayes said. “You can call them up anytime you want and they’re just very approachable. It’s been very helpful to be in contact with them when they have an open-door policy. They want to go down all those alleys too and at least see what the possibilities are. That’s always great to see.”
“It makes it really feel big time,” Flick added. “We love working with the MBA and the state board. They’re super flexible about working with us and helping us if we need anything. You can tell how dedicated they are to growing this as much as possible.”
The 2023 amateur baseball state tournament gets underway Friday, Aug. 18 at all four sites. For more information about the tournament or to volunteer, check out www.mbastate2023.com or contact any of the organizations.
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports