The Waconia High School baseball team started spring practice recently and the Minnesota Twins played their season opener this month.
The 2021 baseball season is here, and it promises to bring considerable excitement to Waconia this year as the community hosts the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament for the first time ever.
Local organizers were notified in June 2018 of the successful bid. Tournament locations are awarded every two to three years by the Minnesota Baseball Association state board. Waconia will co-host the 2021 version with nearby Chaska and Hamburg. State tournament weekends are Aug. 20-22, 27-29, and Sept. 1-4.
“This has literally been years in the making,” Chris Ohm, Waconia Baseball Association president said of the upcoming tournament. Preparation for the tournament has been non-stop over the past year, he explains, involving regular meetings with the WCH2021 Board of Directors comprised of Waconia, Chaska, and Hamburg baseball boards getting ready for the tournament.
But the impetus for the tourney bid came years before that.
It started with a “Raise the Grandstand” project in 2015 to make improvements to Waconia Lions Field and the $1.4 million grandstand that opened in 2017. The Waconia High School baseball team’s unbeaten championship season in 2017 was another driver, drawing attention and momentum for hosting the amateur baseball tournament.
Until then, Waconia did not have a suitable spot for a major baseball tournament or the fans it brings. Now, the state tournament will be a showcase for Lions Field and a baseball coming out party for Waconia as the community co-host with Chaska.
Chaska has a rich tradition of town ball and this will be the fifth state tournament for Chaska Athletic Park, having hosted previously in 1955, 1988, 1998 and 2008. The third site, Hamburg, co-hosted with Chaska in 1998.
What excites Ohm and the WCH2021 committee is the potential for one of the largest tournament crowds in 60 years. The 2020 tournament drew well despite attendance restrictions due to COVID and long drives to host communities Springfield and Milroy. Waconia, Chaska and Hamburg are just 20-30 minutes away from each other and an easy drive from many baseball hubs, Ohm notes.
In addition to the state amateur tournament later this summer, Waconia Lions Field also will host two other major tournaments. The Junior Legion Baseball Tournament is scheduled here June 18-20 and the Gopher State Classic July 7-9 will bring in Legion teams from around the state and the region.
There are a lot of moving parts to be addressed before then, according to Ohm, including arranging volunteers, concessions, programs, grounds crew and media, plus some additional grandstand improvements.
Ohm notes the Waconia Baseball Association has a strong partnership with city of Waconia and the school district in preparing to host the tournament. “A beautiful triangle,” he calls it.
City crews were installing additional parking lot lights last week and other grandstand improvements are slated later this summer to make sure seating and amenities are in line with state board tournament host requirements.
After the Gopher Classic in July, the field will be shut down for final improvements and set-up. Then, on Aug. 20, when the tournament begins its three-weekend run, the cry again with be: “Play ball!”