Eagan will be host of Legion baseball tourney

16 teams will chase state title starting Aug. 1

Organizers of next week’s state American Legion baseball tournament lined up Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan to be the featured speaker at the pre-tourney banquet. Then they started to worry when they looked at the calendar.

The banquet is scheduled Thursday, July 31, at Eagan Community Center. That also happens to be the Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline, and the Twins figure to be active. Thankfully for the local organizers, the trade deadline is 3 p.m. and the banquet’s social hour starts at 6 p.m.

“We talked to (Ryan) a few weeks ago and he assured us he’s in,” said Doug Grawe, a member of the local committee putting on the state tournament.

If any other problems that arise in the next week and a half can be solved as easily, Grawe and his compatriots will be happy. This is Eagan’s first chance to be at host city of the state American Legion tournament, an event that has been held for 88 years, or every year since 1926.

Legion baseball is for players 19 and younger. Generally, they are in high school or have just graduated from high school. In a few cases, players who have completed one year of college can come back and play for their hometown Legion teams.

The host team gets an automatic berth in the state tournament, so the Eagan Patriots will be one of the 16 teams in the field when play begins Friday, Aug. 1. The rest will qualify through Sub-State tournaments taking place this week.

Eagan’s best finish in the state tournament was second in 2010. “Eagan had been in the state tournament two years in a row, and we thought it would be good timing for the community to serve as host,” Grawe said. “This is something we’ve been working on for two years.”

The Eagan High School varsity field will be the headquarters, but some state tournament games also will be played at Alimagnet Park in Burnsville and Red Haddox Field in Bloomington. The championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4, at Eagan High School.

First- and second-place teams will advance to regional competition. Last year, Burnsville finished second to Eden Prairie in the state tournament, then won its regional and played in the American Legion World Series in North Carolina.

Eagan is somewhat of a non-traditional state Legion tournament host in that the headquarters field at EHS does not have lights (the fields in Burnsville and Bloomington do have lights). Grawe said that initially was a concern for state Legion baseball officials, but they eventually approved the local committee’s plan.

Assuming there are no major weather delays, the biggest challenge will be playing four nine-inning games on the EHS field Aug. 1 before nightfall. Games that day are scheduled for 9 a.m., noon, 3 and 6 p.m. At the other tournament locations, first-day action starts at 10 a.m.

“From what we’ve seen, the Legion officials and umpires do a good job of moving the games along, so we don’t think it will be a problem,” Grawe said.

In addition to four days of baseball starting Aug. 1, there will be a home run contest and youth baseball clinics at 2 p.m. July 31 at the Eagan High varsity field. The home run contest was added last year, when Edina was host of the state tournament, and the Eagan organizers chose to keep it.

Grawe said the tournament has been able to secure strong local sponsorship from businesses such as Minnwest Bank, Life Wellness Center, General Sports, Massage Envy and Grawe Law, as well as the Twins Community Fund. Among other things, sponsorships help pay for hotel rooms for teams that have to travel more than 50 miles to play in the tournament. Those teams will stay at the Best Western in Eagan. Teams from within a 50-mile radius will commute to the event.

Eagan Baseball board members such as Kevin Nagel, Tom Umhoefer and Matt Caudill helped guide the local effort to get the state Legion tournament bid, as was Eagan High School baseball coach Rob Walsh. The late Paul Clements, a longtime Eagan youth baseball coach, also assisted in the bid before his death in December 2013.

“Our philosophy has been to do the basics well and not add a lot of bells and whistles,” Grawe said. “If we cover the basics, we’ll have a successful tournament.”

More information about the event, including ticket prices for the banquet and tournament, can be found at www.2014mnlegionstatetournament.com.