CENTRALIA — Spread through the heart of Borst Park in Centralia, five baseball tournaments ebbed and flowed in, through and around each other this week. It was just like how it was designed to do.
In a festival-style showcase of youth baseball that started Monday morning, Pacific Northwest, Southern Washington and Twin Cities Babe Ruth baseball officials are hosting five regional tournaments concurrently. They are betting that holding more than one regional in one place can work now and in the future.
Even with two more days of pool play remaining before championship games this weekend, it appears that bet will pay off as a step into the future of regional baseball play.
The facilities at Borst Park — the Lewis County Sports Complex — are familiar to anyone who has traveled to Centralia for youth and high school sports. The fields’ close proximity makes it possible to walk from one tournament to the other to the next without much effort or time lost.
Wheeler Field is the centerpiece, hosting the Babe Ruth 15U tournament. The four baseball/softball fields to its west were split into game and practice fields and are hosting the Babe Ruth 13U and 14U tournaments. The softball complex, better known as the home of high school district softball tournaments in May, to the southeast of Wheeler are also split into two, hosting the Cal Ripken 60 and 70 regional divisions.
The Cal Ripken 60 and 70 divisions refer to the base-path distance in feet and have a 4-inch difference in pitching distance (46 feet to 50 feet). With temporary pitcher’s mounds and basepaths that can change distance easily, the Borst Park softball complex is perfect for these tournaments.
Next to all of the fields, there are practice fields to warm up on and batting cage buildings to give all of the teams a chance to swing the bats.
Both of Grays Harbor’s teams — the 15U & 14U All-Stars — put those batting cages to good use. Grays Harbor’s 14U picked up two 10-run, mercy rule victories so far and have outslugged their opponents, 25-3. Grays Harbor’s 15s slugged two home runs in their opening game at Wheeler Field and outscored their opponents, 29-14.
In between Wheeler Field and the four baseball fields, food vendors are set up to feed the crowds and two large tents cover picnic tables to shade them from the heat.
The best food vendor of the group is Uncle Jim’s Smokehouse of Chehalis. The loaded jalapenos and onion sausage dog, with a side order of garlic onion rings, rivals the best offered at Safeco Field in Seattle or Cheney Field in Tacoma for baseball food. Just bring a breath mint — or buy ice cream next door — for the convenience of your fellow spectators afterward.
There are two T-shirt vendors there for a souvenir from the regionals and equipment vendors are there to replace a fielding glove or a batting glove or a bat lost during play.
For leagues that have more than one team in the regional tournaments — including two from Grays Harbor; five from Alberta, Canada; two each from Meridian and Lewiston, Idaho and Tualatin Hills, Ore.; and three from Glacier Bay, Mont. — this one-stop format is a travel paradise. You only need one big block of hotel rooms for the teams and some shared resources to get the teams to the tournaments. Also, parents who have players on separate teams don’t have to split up their families to support all of their children at separate locations.
That may be the biggest benefit to be taken from this baseball festival. Shared resources, a facility big enough to field all of the teams and give them space to play and the organizational know-how to handle the crowds and make it all work have combined to bring all of this together. It makes it easier and more fun for the teams traveling to the tournaments, giving them a wonderfully shared social event to be a part of.
“There are several places throughout Washington and Oregon that can host a set of tournaments like this one,” Southern Washington Babe Ruth baseball board member Jim Thomas said. “Even in Aberdeen, it can host a set of tournaments at the Bishop (Athletic Complex). I really think this is how (regionals) should be run.”
It is unknown whether this is just a one-year experiment or a beginning of a new format, but this baseball festival at Borst Park should be the trendsetter for future regional tournaments in the Pacific Northwest.
Rob Burns is a Daily World sports writer. He can be reached at (360) 537-3926, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Twitter at @RobRVR.