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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

State’s top teams converge on Cadwell for 'best baseball atmosphere'

The continued improvements at Cadwell Park are what keep the state amateur baseball tournament returning to Mitchell.

That is what Dale Weber, president of the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association since 1988, said earlier this week.

When this summer’s state tournament kicks off today — Britton plays Irene at 6 p.m. and South Central faces Clark at 8 p.m. in a pair of first-round games at Cadwell — it will be the 25th state amateur tournament to be held at Mitchell’s premier baseball facility. The tournament will run every day through the championship game at 2 p.m. Aug. 14, and The Daily Republic’s Sports section will include an updated schedule each day of the tournament.

“One of the reasons we keep coming back to Cadwell Park is that they keep making improvements all the time,” said Weber, who lives in Salem and played amateur ball for Delmont and Mount Vernon years ago. “The Mitchell Baseball Association needs to be commended for their hard work. We appreciate that.

“The Mitchell Exchange Club does a terrific job with the concessions, as well.”

The first state amateur baseball tournament at Cadwell was played in 1975. One of the many recent improvements at Cadwell is the 190 feet of netting from dugout to dugout that serves as the backstop. The backstop was completed in 2006.

“It’s a good spot to see the game, that’s for sure,” Weber said.

This summer, visiting teams and fans will find a new scoreboard, which was installed last week. The scoreboard will have new light emitting diode (LED) lights that will allow numbers to be seen more visibly during dusk, compared to the old scoreboard, which used light bulbs. It also will allow the scoreboard to display the names of the teams playing each game, unlike the old scoreboard, which displayed generic terms such as “home” and “visitor.”

Cadwell Park also will have a new sound system in place this week to help keep fans entertained with music between innings and between games.

Mitchell will host the state amateur baseball tournament this summer and next summer before it returns to Sioux Falls Stadium for one year. Weber said the SDABA has not projected where the state tournament will be played after the next two years, but added that the current schedule — two years in Mitchell, then one year in Sioux Falls — has “worked real well since we started doing it.”

“We’re fortunate in South Dakota that we do have two great facilities in Mitchell and Sioux Falls to hold the state tournament,” Weber said. “I won’t miss a pitch.

“That’s been the case for about 33 years.”

‘A little cozier’

Mitchell native Phil Johnson helped Dimock/Emery win its first-ever state amateur baseball title last year in Sioux Falls.

But he knows this year will have a different feel.

“It’s a completely different atmosphere being in Mitchell than it is in Sioux Falls,” said Johnson, a pitcher/third baseman for the Raptors, who open their state tournament run at 1 p.m. Saturday against Lake Norden. “Everybody from the small towns can make the drive and watch the game here.

“It seems like there are so many towns in this area that just shut the town down and enjoy baseball.”

One of those towns — Canova — won its first state amateur baseball title in 30 years in 2009 at Cadwell Park. The Gang is back this season and will open its tournament at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against Crofton, Neb.

“I think it’s more of the small-town spirit comes to life in Cadwell,” Canova coach Dave Gassman said. “The area is surrounded by small towns and Mitchell does such a good job of bringing the small-town feel to Cadwell Park, which is something that doesn’t happen when the tournament is in Sioux Falls.”

Longtime tournament coordinator Jim Johnston, who has been a member of the Mitchell Baseball Association’s board since 1994, said he thinks the intimate feel of Cadwell is its biggest advantage over the large-town parks.

“It is different because Sioux Falls is a ballpark built for sponsors and built for a lot of seating,” Johnston said. “Cadwell Park is just more like the parks these teams play at all year long. I just think they feel more comfortable at Cadwell Park because it’s a little cozier.”

Lucrative venue

Canova won the 2009 state title game at Cadwell Park over Dell Rapids PBR. That game provided the highest single-session gate sales in the history of the state amateur tournament.

Total gate receipts for the tournament came out to more than $45,000, which is believed to be the largest total paid attendance in the history of the tournament.

“The atmosphere is what does it,” said Mitchell native Trevor Oswald, who has played for Canova for the past two years. “Everybody is on top of you, the fans are so into it … the place gets packed and, when you’re talking 2,000 fans at a baseball game, it gets pretty intense.”

Oswald said he has played in state tournaments in the past with amateur teams from Mitchell — Mitchell UPT and the GF Giants, when the teams were in existence. This will be his first time playing at Cadwell as part of Canova’s squad.

“I’d say this is why you play,” Oswald said. “You play to make the state tournament and to play at Cadwell. Most of the small towns don’t get to play at Cadwell unless you make the state tournament, so it’s a pretty big deal.”

Parkston’s Bill Ernster played and coached for Mount Vernon during his amateur days. Now, he is the commissioner of District 5B, which has four teams — Dimock/Emery, the Parkston Mudcats, Platte and Alexandria — vying for a state title over the next 11 days.

“I know our local players love Cadwell Park,” said Ernster, who remembers hitting “a few home runs out of Cadwell” during his playing days. “They’ve told me that much.”

Mitchell Baseball Association President Jim Larson does not hide behind his bias. But he also will not let that change his opinion.

“Cadwell Park is obviously the draw,” Larson said. “Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think it’s the best baseball atmosphere in the state.”

‘What the staff has been working for’

In his 11th year as the ballpark manager at Cadwell Park, Chuck Jones said he and his staff have not changed their approach one bit.

“This is what the staff has been working for all year,” Jones said. “We just got done with two other state tournaments the last few weeks, and we had the same mentality for them. Our goal is to put forth the best facility in the state.”

The Cadwell Sports Complex hosted the women’s slowpitch state tournament last weekend and the 10-andunder baseball state tournament last month.

Jones said his staff’s biggest challenge has been — and will continue to be — the tripledigit temperatures and heat indexes that have blanketed the area this summer. When it is as hot and dry as it has been, Jones said keeping the fields moist and in good condition can be difficult.

“In the perfect world, it’d be a nice 60-degree night with a quarter inch of rain,” said Jones, who was not making any predictions. “It’d be 80 degrees during the day and we’d have a good week.”

The National Weather Service forecast as of Tuesday afternoon predicted a high of 86 today with sunny skies, a 3-7 mph breeze and an overnight low of 65 with a 20 percent chance of rain during the nighttime hours. Thursday’s forecast includes a 20 percent chance of rain, partly sunny skies and a high temperature of 86.

Larson said volunteers and parents within the MBA have filled nearly all the work hours needed for the upcoming tournament.

But, with Mitchell teener teams playing in state tournaments in Sioux Falls this weekend, he said it could be some long days for those volunteers.

“The challenge of this tournament is the length of it,” Larson said. “To get workers to cover all those days … that is a lot of workers.

“Anytime we can, we want to host this state tournament, but it is a challenge that we face.”

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