September 24, 2001 11:00 pm

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

La Grandes American Legion baseball team will defend its regional title at home in 2002.

Team manager Dave Mellinger found out Sunday that La Grande will host the American Legion Baseball Northwest Class A Regional Tournament next August.

Its going to be a big deal for La Grande, Mellinger said.

This years tournament in Powell, Wyo., featured eight teams, including La Grande, which won all five games by 10 runs.

The 2002 tournament will be held about the same time in mid-August, Mellinger said. The state champions from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming will participate, as well as La Grande and a second team from Washington.

Mellinger figures the tournament will draw at least 200 people to Optimist Field in Pioneer Park.

By looking at the crowds they had back there, all the kids were represented by their parents, Mellinger said.

Volunteers are already getting Optimist Field ready. The basepaths have been dug up and will be filled with new dirt. Foul poles will be built. And a fresh coat of paint will cover the bleachers.

Well probably have to put bleachers around third base, Mellinger added.

La Grande and Salem were in the running for the regional tournament, which is the last stop for American Legion Class A teams. Class AAA teams proceed to the World Series, which was held in Yakima this year.

Class A teams typically have younger high school players, while AAA teams are mostly made up of high school seniors.

When Oregon was going to get it, I dont know why the defending champs wouldnt get it, Mellinger said.

Mellinger is waiting for cost breakdowns from tournament organizers in Wyoming, and he and team sponsor, Rain Roofing owner Mike McDonald, will sit down and put together a budget later this year.

Id like to get most of it done this fall, Mellinger said.