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A champion’s return: Carroll hosting 2 State baseball tournaments

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With a bit of a pinch hit from Major League Baseball, the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s State baseball tournament is returning to Carroll.

Merchants Park will host the class 1A and 2A State baseball tournaments this July. City and state baseball officials made the announcement official this morning.

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Merchants Park will host the class 1A and 2A State baseball tournaments the last full week of July. This will be the first time since 2004 that the State baseball tournament has been played in Carroll, and the first time that class 2A will play the State tournament in Carroll.

“There will be two classes coming to Merchants Park, class 1A and 2A. It’s huge,” Carroll Parks and Recreation Director Jack Wardell said. “We will have two sessions every day — a morning session and a late-afternoon, evening session. We have a great group of people that are excited to have the state baseball tournament back.”

City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver sees the return as a boost to the regional economy during the recovery from the pandemic. The city will pull out all the stops to impress state athletic officials and fans from across Iowa, he said.

Visitors can expect to see welcome signs and banners celebrating the State tournament teams in the final week of July, when the tournaments will be held. There will be 16 total teams, eight in each class. There will be 14 games in a single-elimination format.

Carroll’s Merchants Park, a historic ball field that was home for a semi-pro team a generation ago and produced Major League talent, previously had hosted the IHSAA State baseball tournaments for class 1A and 3A from 1994-2004. In 2005, the state baseball tournament moved all classes to Principal Park in Des Moines.

However, when MLB reorganized the minor league system and took over scheduling, the Iowa Cubs lost their ability to schedule a road trip that would accommodate the State tournament at Principal Park.

That meant the IHSAA had to search for a new home for the tournament.

During the early part of the search, the City of Carroll, along with the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association, submitted a letter to the IHSAA opening up Merchants Park for the IHSAA to use for the State baseball tournament. The letter offered Merchants Park for use, rent-free, by the IHSAA for the State baseball tournament.

“Our staff visited Carroll on multiple occasions, and everyone we dealt with in Carroll has been extremely accommodating and welcoming,” IHSAA Communications Director Chris Cuellar said in a May 25 interview with the Times Herald. “It was clear that they want the event (at Merchants Park). We know that and we felt that. We feel good about Carroll as an option.”

This year’s State baseball tournament will be split up, with class 3A and 4A playing at another location.

When Merchants Park hosted the tournament from 1994-2004, classes 2A and 4A played in Marshalltown. However, the facilities in Marshalltown were not kept up as much as Carroll was.

Cuellar admitted that the search for a new site — or, as the case is, sites — for the state baseball tournament was more challenging than most would expect. The City of Carroll and Carroll Athletic Association have made substantial improvements to Merchants Park in the last two decades and are eager for fans to enjoy those amenities.

“I believe there were a large number of our members who believed that we had options that didn’t actually exist when it came to hosting the State baseball tournament,” Cuellar said. “There is this idea that state tournaments can be moved anywhere, but from a facility prospective, from a hosting perspective, from a staffing and a quality perspective to how many seats a facility has, that all factors into the choices we have to make. And it makes it somewhat challenging.”

What makes it challenging to have all four classes in one location is the sheer number of games.

“We’re talking 28 games to be played on a top-tier surface in just over a week,” Cuellar said.

Hosting classes 1A and 2A presents an opportunity for Carroll to showcase not only Merchants Park, but also the town.

“The smaller schools tend to travel very well,” Wardell said. “Since they are made up of communities, you can sometimes see whole communities come support their school.”

The Merchants Park seating capacity under the awning is 1,000. The outer bleachers hold another 200, and the city is likely to bring in more bleachers to boost the total capacity to 1,600.

The city, working with Carroll High School and Kuemper Catholic High School, will operate three concessions stands.

“There could be as many 1,600 people at each game,” Pogge-Weaver said. “That’s a lot of people coming to our community. That’s going to be a lot of people that are going to want to go to a restaurant, to our shopping facilities, to our hotels and motels in our community. This is going to be a Thanksgiving shopping, Black Friday-type event happening for several days here in Carroll.”

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