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Hosting state a first for Willmar

Bill Taunton Stadium

WILLMAR - The time has come.

Three years of preparation come to a point today with the start of the 2010 Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament. Beginning in 1975, Willmar hosted numerous American Legion State Tournaments but the state am is a first.

Games tonight are set at Bird Island's Lion's Memorial Park and Willmar's Bill Taunton Stadium at Baker Field - two games at each site.

Twelve games are scheduled for Saturday - four each at the above locations, plus Spicer's Green Lake Diamonds.

After that, Spicer's park becomes the back-up if the scheduled must be condensed due to rainouts.

The three-weekend playdown starts with 32 Class C teams and 16 Class B squads. Class C is single-elimination to the final eight, while Class B is single elimination the first round.

The town-team tournament dates to 1924, but this is the first time the event has scheduled three sites. It was a single-site tourney until 1981.

Spicer serves as the required back-up in case of unplayable field conditions at one of the primary sites. But this year, the state board decided to look at a third ballpark the first Saturday, which eliminates the need to start the tournament on Thursday evening.

"When I played (for the Granite Falls Kilowatts), you just cringed if you got drawn for a Thursday night game," said Jon Rambow, co-chairman with Mary Sawatzky of the Willmar tournament committee.

The Thursday games drew poorly and were generally considered an inconvenience to fans and players and meant tournament officials and volunteers had to arrange to start the three-weekend process a day early.

The three-park setting on Saturday also allows the west-central area to show off three premier ballparks. Each is relatively new - Bird Island's new stadium opened first in 1999 - and has undergone extensive updates.

Willmar and Bird Island put together a bid in 2004 with Bill Taunton Stadium still under construction. The bid failed, though not by much, and three years later the local committee was back. The state board patted them on the back and awarded the Cornbelt League towns the 2010 tournament.

It's the first for both in an event that shows a preference for staying within 50 miles of the metro area, which generally means bigger attendance totals.

This area has hosted two tournaments before, both at Richter Field in Granite Falls in concert with Marshall, in 1989 and 1999.

Willmar's committee began holding monthly meetings in 2007 and went weekly last June. The concession sub-committee began meeting in winter. Volunteers were recruited and singers for the National Anthem found and luminaries contacted to throw out the first pitch.

"There are a lot of people with their hands in this," said Rambow.

Two camper trailers have been moved to the Willmar park. One will serve as an office for the state tournament board and the other as a check-in for volunteers.

The state board is emphasizing that players must enter and leave the ball parks in full uniform, i.e., no changing clothes in the dugout before or after a game.

Rambow said that each site will have its own menu, but an effort was made to be consistent on pricing and reasonable. For example, a cheeseburger with fries will be $5 at all parks.

Beer will be on sale at all three parks.

Adult admission is $6 and a ticket is good at all parks all day.

The rosters came in only this past weekend from the various regions to the local committee. They had to be re-typed and then e-mailed to Dolan Printing in Minneapolis for compilation into game-day programs.

The contests conclude on Labor Day with the Class C championship decided at Willmar and Class B at Bird Island.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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