TERRE HAUTE — The success of the Wayne Newton Post 346 baseball team in recent years has not only given manager John Hayes a chance to match wits with the best American Legion baseball programs in the nation, but it’s also given him a chance to see the sites.
The sites of the games that is. For good and for worse.
After traveling to disparate locales like Mattoon, Ill. and Midland, Mich., Hayes saw no reason that the American Legion’s Great Lakes Regional — the last step before the American Legion World Series — couldn’t take place in Terre Haute.
Especially once Bob Warn Field was renovated in 2010.
“We’ve been to a lot of places and I saw no reason that Terre Haute couldn’t host this tournament. So we made it happen,” Hayes said Tuesday.
With a bevy of local businesses, organizations and American Legion supporters in his corner, Hayes helped make it happen for Terre Haute as it will host the Great Lakes Regional beginning 10 a.m. today at Bob Warn Field. Eight teams from five states — Post 346 gets to participate in the tournament as the host team, despite being eliminated in the state tournament — begin double-elimination play today.
The five-day tournament concludes on Monday with the winner headed to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C.
Terre Haute last hosted the Great Lakes Regional in 1995. Hayes said he learned a lot from hosting that tournament and believes it will be better organized this time around.
Hosting the tournament is a significant undertaking. Hayes will have volunteers to help with administrative and other duties. Hayes, of course, will be ever-present, though he also has to worry about managing his own team.
Hayes is hoping the Terre Haute community votes with its feet and is as supportive of the event as the sponsors and supporters he helped line up to get the event in the first place.
“It’s hard to gauge that. When we had it in 1995, crowds weren’t very good to be honest with you. We didn’t do a very good job of marketing it. There’s been more said about it and wrote about it this time,” Hayes said.
A big key? Hayes and tournament organizers were committed to making the tournament affordable.
“There’s four games [today] and Friday, three on Saturday, two on Sunday and one or two on Monday. For $5, you can come in and watch one game or four games,” Hayes said. “We’re going to sell an all-tournament pass the first day for $20, so you get a one-day break. We won’t make a lot of money at the gate, but we wanted to make it affordable for people, especially people with families if you charge much more than that.”
Hayes did note that he expects the tournament to be profitable.
As for his own team, Hayes knows Post 346’s task will be difficult. If Terre Haute wasn’t hosting the tournament, Post 346’s players would already be home for the summer after a loss to Princeton Post 218 in the state tournament. Hayes can rely on Post 346’s rich lineage in the American Legion tournament, but then, so can his opponents.
“Moline [one of two Illinois participants] beat us 4-2 [in June]. They have a pitcher named [Matt] Brill who was drafted. Edwardsville later beat Brill 11-0. That tells me Edwardsville is strong,” Hayes said. “Edwardsville won the 1998 World Series. Midland won it in 2009 in Fargo. These teams aren’t strangers to American Legion baseball.”
Post 346 went 1-4 against teams in the Great Lakes Regional field. Besides the loss to Moline, Post 346 went 1-3 against Princeton during the season. Post 346’s lone victory came on July 14 when it downed Princeton 10-3.
Post 346 has hit .312 during the season, but Hayes would like to see more consistency. The team has had a tendency to be all or nothing at the plate.
“If our pitching stays good like its been and if our defense stays good, that’s going to be important. I’m a little concerned that we don’t hit the ball as well as we’d hoped for. I’d like to see us be consistent at the plate,” Hayes said.
All seven Post 346 batters with 100 at-bats or more — Cody Brock (.374), Cody Thornton (.347), Zach Milam (.344), Preston Tofaute (.323), Pete Lannoo (.319), Jacob Johnson (.307) and Connor Pierce (.300) — are hitting .300 or better. Pitching strength is derived from Damon Olds, who is 10-0 with a 1.57 ERA. Opponents have hit just .167 against Olds. T.J. Decker is close behind at 10-1 and 2.02.
Great Lakes Regional Schedule
Game 1 — Napoleon, Ohio Post 300 vs. Plover, Wis. Post 543, 10 a.m.
Game 2 — Edwardsville, Ill. Post 199 vs. Ash Port, Wis. Post 11, approx. 1 p.m.
Game 3 — Moline, Ill. Post 246 vs. Princeton, Ind. Post 218, 5 p.m.
Game 4 — Midland, Mich. Post 165 vs. Wayne Newton Post 346, approx. 8 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 1 Loser vs. Game 3 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 6 — Game 2 Loser vs. Game 4 loser, approx. 1 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 5 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 2 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, approx. 8 p.m.
Game 9 — Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Loser, Noon
Game 10 — Game 5 Winner vs. Game 8 Loser, 4 p.m.
Game 11 — Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, approx. 7 p.m.
Game 12 — Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Loser, 4 p.m.
Game 13 — Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner, 7 p.m.
Game 14 — Game 12 Winner vs. Game 13 Winner, 4 p.m.
Game 15 — Game 14 Winner vs. Game 14 Loser (if necessary), 7 p.m.