NO ROUGH DIAMONDS HERE

August 14, 2002 11:00 pm
NO PLACE LIKE: Home plate at Optimist Field was redesigned to look like itself for this week's American Legion Baseball Northwest Regional Class "A" Tournament. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).
NO PLACE LIKE: Home plate at Optimist Field was redesigned to look like itself for this week's American Legion Baseball Northwest Regional Class "A" Tournament. (The Observer/PAT PERKINS).

By Pat Perkins

Observer Staff Writer

The sod has been cut and installed, the basepaths raked a thousand times. Banners and borders are up, new concrete and paint laid down.

Play ball!

Local organizers have been working for a year to prepare for the American Legion Baseball Northwest Class "A" Regional Tournament, which starts Friday morning at Optimist Field in Pioneer Park.

The field looks as good as it ever has, and some of the participating teams have already had a chance to see it.

"They said, ‘Gee, this looks better than the semi-pro field we use,' " tournament organizers Debbie Mellinger said about the players from Valdez, Alaska, who have been in town since Tuesday, preparing for their Friday afternoon game.

First pitch is at 9:35 a.m. Friday, with the Richland (Wash.) Knights facing the Mountain Home (Idaho) Royals. The Valdez Bucs meet Oregon's West Albany at 12:30 p.m., and the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Hawks play Glendive, Mont., at 4:35 p.m.

Last year's regional champions, La Grande Rain Roofing, opens its title defense at 7:30 p.m. against Sumner, the second seed out of Washington.

Tickets cost $5 for adults and $4 for students and senior citizens. A tournament family pass for five people can be purchased for $35, and day passes cost $10.

La Grande won its district tournament two weeks ago but chose to skip the state tournament for several reasons. For one thing, the team had an automatic berth to the regional tournament as the host team. For another, the state tournament was in Medford, a long and expensive trip.

Team officials chose to save their money to put into preparing for the regional tournament. Rain Roofing had four games in the meantime against local, non-Legion teams.

"Time will tell if it was helpful to not go to the state tournament or not," La Grande coach Wes McAllaster said. "Oregon's championship game was (Tuesday) night at 5:30 p.m. in Medford."

La Grande rolled through district, state and regional tournaments undefeated last year. The team blasted the competition at regionals, winning all five games by at least 10 runs, then taking the sportsmanship trophy to boot.

Legion officials later awarded this year's tournament to La Grande, and work began to prepare.

Earlier this summer, McAllaster and many others cut and laid new sod at the field, cleaning up rough spots and shaping the area around home plate to look like a home plate.

Broken concrete in the stands was smoothed over, and the metal railings of the stands were painted. Time prevented the wooden benches themselves from being painted, Debbie Mellinger said.

New foul poles have been installed, and sponsor banners hang all around the fences, although one banner was stolen within hours of being hung.