New Ulm baseball tournaments still going strong
The Upper Midwest Classic continues this Saturday and wraps up on Sunday, and for Vern Kitzberger and company, the planning for next year’s events will start soon.
Kitzberger, who is the Second District American Legion Director, said that Kevin Fischer begins asking all of the teams that played in this year’s tournaments if they’re interested in coming back and playing next year. There are 16 teams in both tournaments and they get first crack at the following year’s tournament.
“He’ll send out already in the fall invitations to the ones that were already here, they’ll get first crack at it,” Kitzberger said. “Usually by about February he’s got a number of commitments so then he’ll send some more out to some that are assumed would be good prospects or past entrants. I think we were full for both tournaments already in April, a lot of years we have a waiting list so he’ll attack the waiting list second.”
Both tournaments tend to draw teams from all over the upper Midwest (there have been teams from Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and even as far away as Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Nevada.)
Kitzberger said that the waiting list might be longer some years, depending on if some teams have had recent success in the high school program and they may want to face some of the competition offered at both the Junior Upper Midwest and Upper Midwest Classic tournaments.
However, some teams may not come back due to travel times or other issues.
“For some of the smaller towns, there more apt to want to come when they have a strong class,” Kitzberger said. “The other ones, when they do miss, it’s because the season’s shorter and they’re trying some other tournaments that fall on the same weekend so they might go to that one instead. Sometimes it’s financial issues or travel issues as well.”
This past weekend, the Junior Upper Midwest Classic came to a premature end on Saturday as rain washed away the remainder of the tournament. Most of the teams had three games in at that point, but the rain on Saturday was too much for the fields and the grounds crews to deal with, so they had to shut the tournament down at about 6 p.m. on Saturday.
While such a move is rare, it has happened before. However, there are many steps in place to move games around and planning is done ahead of time. It also helps that the grounds crew works fast and well with the rain and they are able to get the fields in playable conditions at a quick rate so that games aren’t lost.
“This started back in 1980, one person who did it back then was Dick Mueller and he’s the one that set up the format that we have now,” Kitzberger said. “There’s some things that you don’t notice at first glance when you look at the brackets and pools and stuff, but there is some kind of built in flexibility to accommodate rainouts.”
While the grounds crew remains behind the scenes, so do the many volunteers that work at both tournaments that help pull these tournaments off.
The volunteers include the announcers, scoreboard operators, concession stand workers, ticket takers, and many more people that probably go unnoticed to the casual fan.
Kitzberger said that there are about 60 or so per day that work at these tournaments and there’s a lot of work and communication between the various organizations around the area, including the New Ulm Park and Recreation Department.
“We have a committee of 18, not all of us work every day but everybody takes their turns,” Kitzberger said. “We have a great working relationship with the New Ulm Baseball Association as well as Essig and Searles. I’m assuming they have 15-20 different people at each ballpark, we’re going to have 40-50 if you count the grounds crew. It’s a big operation, but we don’t coordinate all of that. Park and Rec does their thing, we work hand in hand with these guys, and Al Flor will line up our umpires, so it’s not like we have to make all of those phone calls.
“New Ulm amateur baseball in charge of concessions, our working relationship is great and sometimes they’ll hop in and help us if we need it and we might help in and help them,” Kitzberger said.
Kitzberger also said that one of the biggest draws for the tournament is the fields. Historic Johnson Park is the main field and Mueller Park is also one that teams and fans seem to enjoy. This year, with games in Essig and Searles, fans from the bigger cities get a chance to see the small-town fields and they are a hit with both fans and players alike.
“A lot of the metro teams — everyone wants to play at Johnson, obviously — but they love playing in the cornfields (fields in Essig and Searles). People keep asking how do you get such a great second field (Mueller), we’re lucky in that regard and maybe it is a reflection of how strong of a baseball community we have here,” Kitzberger said. “Nobody has ever complained about the fields or the diversity of the fields.”