Archive for May, 2004

Watching the Sun Set at Red Rock

Wednesday, May 5th, 2004

(Editor’s Note: We are pleased to announce that this feature story selected for publication in the July 2004 issue of Softball Magazine)

[St. George, Utah]- After listening to people rave about the Red Rock tournament for the last couple years, Maddy and I decided to visit and get a first hand look. It was our second trip this year to a “Ken Hackmeister” production, the first being in January to the AAU International in Orlando. Most readers know Ken as the Executive Director of the ISC. The hallmarks of events in which Ken is involved are great organization and good communication with everyone involved. For this one, Ken collaborated with Josh Olmstead of the City of St. George and longtime umpire Roy Stout.

We came away very impressed, with the town of St. George, the beautiful Canyons Complex, and the tournament. This is one of those places that you really have to see to appreciate. Photos give you an idea as to what it looks like, but can’t capture the size and majesty of the place. When you walk in to the complex, your first impression is of the vast expanse of Red rocks towering over the complex, a breathtaking backdrop to some of the best fields in the country.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, and got the cook’s tour from Josh Olmstead, who manages the complex for the City of St. George. He grew up in Utah, playing fastpitch himself starting at age 11, and his pride and care for the facility is apparent everywhere you look, and in the way he talks about it. The complex consists of 7 diamonds, with five in the main complex, circled around a pueblo-style building in the middle that fits the motif of the surrounding area. The outfield grass on every field is perfectly manicured and cropped so close (“5/8ths of an inch”, Josh says) it could pass for a golf green. The sprinkler system seems to know when the final outs are recorded, as they come on as the teams are leaving the fields, as the ground crews roll out to start their work, a ritual repeated after each game.

The chain link fencing is dark green, contrasting with the smooth red brick dust infields, complete with warning tracks that run down each foul line with professional style “fair poles”. One imagines that it could have come off the drawing board at HOK Sport Architects, the company that designed some of today’s “retro” looking ballparks around the country. Electronic scoreboards on every field, with operators that keep not only the score and outs, but also balls and strikes. (gratefully appreciated by our broadcast team)

As we drove the mile or so back to the hotel Friday, looking up at the Red Rocks above, I couldn’t help wonder why a national or world tournament has not yet been hosted here. I had driven through St. George many times enroute to ski trips further north in Utah, but hadn’t really seen the town. I heard more than one player talk about how friendly and polite the folks there were (something we sometimes don’t see as often as we like living in a sprawling metropolis like L.A.). And easy to get to, just a couple hours drive north of Las Vegas, which is a cheap flight from most anywhere, with the small Nevada gambling town of Mesquite halfway in between. National orgs, are you listening?

Mike Ryan (catcher, Edge Fastpitch) joined Maddy and I for the weekend, sitting in as co-broadcaster on the “Fastpitchwest Radio” crew for the half dozen games broadcast live on the internet. We spent most of the weekend, sitting on a porch like roof above the fields, with a bird’s eye view of as many as three fields at a time. Best seat in the house. Technical difficulties aside, we heard from a number of you that tuned in for the broadcasts, which made it a worthwhile endeavor. Credit Mike for a big contribution to the effort.

Looking back at our pre-tourney “Predict the Elite Eight”, polls, voters accurately picked five teams, but got a few surprises. Voters correctly picked Pueblo from Pool A, Portland De Marini from Pool B, both Houston H.I.S. Construction and Team Rainey from Pool C, and Broken Bow Spirit from Pool D. Broken Bow and Portland tied for the most votes with 125 each, both going 3-0 on Saturday. Voters overlooked three teams though, Captain Dan’s of So Cal, the Hilo Athletics of Hawaii, and Castlewood Utah.

Captain Dan’s flew in under the radar, not appearing in the ISC pre-season rankings, and far down the ISC II list. But the team is known for its intestinal fortitude, and plays other top So Cal teams like Rainey, the Bombers and Mexicali straight up in the local A/B league. The Dan lost only to eventual winner BBS and runner-up Pueblo, and gave BBS their best game on Sunday, taking them the full 7 innings (compared to mercy rule wins in the semis and finals), behind the gutsy pitching of Rich Woods. I suspect Chad Hardesty will long remember the mammoth home run hit on Sunday against Broken Bow, the longest home run that I saw on the weekend, hitting the slo-pitch fence behind the regulation fencing.

I’m guessing that voters didn’t know that Hilo had pitchers Robbie O’Brien and Colin McKenzie, making them a formidable one-two punch, and carrying them into the championship bracket. A parting gift from the islands to Fastpitchwest from James Hirayama and the Hilo A’s was a classy touch.

Castlewood, Utah has to be pleased with their weekend, knocking off two very good So Cal teams, the Yucaipa Bombers and Team Rainey. Both were close battles that Castlewood found a way to win. The Castlewood-Yucaipa game Saturday might have been the most exciting of the tournment, with Raymundo Parra hitting a 2 run homer to tie the game for the Bombers in the 7th inning, only to have Castlewood win in extra innings, while Castlewood’s Sunday morning elimination game against Team Rainey was a see-saw affair won by the home state team, 4-3.

No one was surprised to see Broken Bow Spirit of New York, the defending ISC World Champions and #1 team in the 2004 ISC Preseason polls as the eventual tournament champion. Their performance in the tournament, and especially in the championship round fell somewhere between dominant and scary. 8-1, 12-2 and 15-1 were their Sunday scores. As Dennis Frye of Des Moines Iowa wrote in “with the showing Broken Bow displayed on the diamond, the best team in New York does not play at Yankee Stadium !! ” I couldn’t have said it any better than that. Pitcher Frank Cox and first baseman Mike Taylor were deserving MVP winners for Broken Bow. Cox won all three of his games and Taylor was 8 for 10 on Sunday with a triple, two home runs, and a bucket full of RBI’s.

Two home-state Utah teams made it to the championship game of the consolation bracket, for bragging rights for the city of Salt Lake, with Larry Miller coming out on top of Page Brake in this one. These team have two of the longest running programs in the west, fielding teams for the past couple decades.

Keeping with the “first cabin” approach of the Red Rock tournament, the winning teams and individual award winners received plaques with beautiful polished native rock mounted on a hardwood base. Very attractive and heavy. Josh Olmstead jokingly told me that they chip the rock for the trophies from the Red Rocks overlooking the fields. The champions, runners up and all tournament team members also received embroidered polo shirts. If that was not enough, the champions, Broken Bow Spirit will also receive championship rings to top things off.

Weather? Oh, how about high 80’s-low 90’s in May?

While there might be reason to rest on their laurels, the folks in St. George will not. They are already working on improvements to the concession/press box facility to make the place more modern, and user friendly than it is now. Just one more reason to make your plans to watch the sun set in Red Rock in 2005.

RR Postscript: stay tuned for Maddy’s photos from the tournament, due to go up as soon as we can make room for them. A few photos? Oh, you might say that. And a funny tan line inside her elbows from holding the camera to her eye all weekend Of course I am biased, but from what I saw last night, these photos might be her best work yet.