State Legion Baseball Tournament Coming to Twin Cities Starting Saturday
CHAMPIONSHIP: 16 Teams Face Off For Lone Spot Into Regionals
By Matt Baide
Centralia and Chehalis will be host to 16 of the best American Legion baseball teams as the State “AAA” Legion baseball tournament begins on Saturday.
Games will be played at Ed Wheeler Field and Bearcat Stadium and the tournament bracket will be separated into two sides, with eight teams playing exclusively at Wheeler and the other eight playing at Chehalis. The two teams left standing from each side will play in the championship game, set for Thursday, Aug. 2, at Wheeler Field to determine the state champion and the berth into the regional tournament on Aug. 8-12 in Missoula, Montana.
I-5 Toyota/Mountain Dew begins the tournament on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Wheeler Field against Shadle Park. Head coach Tommy Grunenfelder is excited to have the event in the team’s backyard.
“Well, it’s always an advantage when you can sleep in your own bed, get a hometown crowd and that type of thing, so that’s exciting,” Grunenfelder said.
Games begin in Chehalis and Centralia on 10 a.m. on Saturday. As the host, I-5 Toyota/Mountain Dew will host a ceremony at 6:45 p.m. before their opening game, honoring former players of the program that have made it to the MLB, including Lyle Overbay, Darcy Fast, Bill Lohr and Bob Coluccio.
“Just fantastic to have Bobby Colucio, Lyle Overbay, Billy Lore and Darcy Fast back here,” I-5 Toyota/Mountain Dew general manager Marc Roberts said. “Just having those guys back and all of them played in our legion program and then went on to do the things they did.”
Overbay will also be speaking to the teams on Friday during the pre-tournament barbeque at 7 p.m. Roberts and Grunenfelder hope the presence of pro baseball players will inspire the current I-5 Toyota squad.
“I would hope so. I mean, you look out there and see these guys play here and then they made it there so it’s possible,” Roberts said.
This is the fourth time the Twin Cities have hosted the “AAA” Legion State Tournament. The last time the Twin Cities hosted was about five years ago when players like Dugan Shirer, Keylen Steen and Brady Calkins donned the I-5 Toyota uniforms.
It won’t be easy to get through the 16-team field, especially with some tough competition throughout the state.
“Well, I think every year, you know that Lakeside Recovery out of Issaquah is going to be tough. They always are, I think there’s a Wilder team out of Port Angeles that sounds like they’re pretty good,” Grunenfelder said. “I think we have a few good teams from our league that are pretty good and obviously Pepsi Pak and those eastern teams are good so it’s going to be a very competitive tournament.”
Grunenfelder believes the team’s strength is pitching. With arms like WSU-bound Brandon White and Tyson Guerrero as well as Lower Columbia commit Dakota Hawkins and current Centralia College pitcher Dylan Stakelin, the team has some depth in the rotation should they need to use it.
Not only will this be a big financial boost to the I-5 Toyota program, it will also be beneficial to Twin City businesses.
“Sixteen teams coming into town and probably 12 of them are going to be staying in town for a few days so it’s a boost economically and to our program,” Roberts said. “The American Legion takes care of the umpire expenses and basically, all the profits that we make off it go back into our program. Plus, we don’t have to pay money let’s say to go to pay to stay in Spokane like we did last year so it’s a shot in the arm for us too.”
Grunenfelder and Roberts hope to have solid crowds at both stadiums throughout the tournament, especially with the local talent featured on the I-5 Toyota roster.
“It’s a great community event,” Roberts said. “We play in front of a home crowd. If we get a crowd out here, these kids are going to get really excited. You just can’t beat it.”
I-5 Toyota has had a solid season and has played a lot of games in preparation for the state tournament.
“I think these kids really enjoy being around each other. They have each other’s backs,” Grunenfelder said. “They root for each other, it’s a close-knit group. I think we’ve gotten better all summer long.”
If I-5 Toyota can play up to their potential, they have a great chance of earning the state title.
“I’ve been in a lot of these state tournaments and won quite a few of them when I was coaching in Idaho but you’ve got to have some breaks to win a state tournament,” Grunenfelder said. “You’ve got to play really well offensively, defensively and pitching and it’s one of those deals where you can’t make a lot of mistakes and the best team doesn’t always win in baseball but if you do your part, you give yourself a chance.”