TERRE HAUTE —
John Hayes has been a familiar face at high school baseball games this spring as he always is, enjoying the games but also looking for players who can help his Wayne Newton Post 346 American Legion team that will start its summer season shortly.
This spring and next, he has an additional incentive to offer for local players: two guaranteed trips to the Great Lakes Regional.
Post 346 is hardly a stranger to national regional play. In his 29 seasons as its manager, Hayes has taken eight teams there — seven state champions and a host team in 1995 — which included winning the 2006 regional and coming within a game of the national championship.
And in 2013 and 2014 it’s the regional host team again, bringing seven other teams to Indiana State’s Bob Warn Field in Sycamore Stadium to play for the right to advance to World Series play in Shelby, N.C.
It’s a great opportunity for his team, Hayes believes — “If you’re home, sleeping in your own beds, I have to think you have better chance of winning,” he said earlier this week — but also for the community.
And those opportunities, of course, come with considerable work — and maybe a little arm-twisting — involved.
“We have to raise $20,000 [each year] just to meet expenses,” Hayes said.
It’s a sum that won’t be raised with bake sales or tag days, of course. No teenagers in Wayne Newton uniforms will be seen at entrances to WalMart holding out tin cans.
Instead a coalition of baseball fans and businesspeople has already been organized, and it appears to be well on its way to meeting its goal — which isn’t to say that the group is finished with its task.
“We’re selling ads in the [tournament] program,” Hayes noted, “and we’re selling sponsorships [for events such as the National Anthem or the first pitch of each game]. There’s also an opportunity for people to buy an inning [during which their products or services will be promoted].”
Welcome packets are being prepared at Hampton Inn, which will house the seven visiting teams, and pizza will be available when they arrive on Aug. 7. Later that evening, all eight teams will be introduced during a concert — with an artist or artists to be named soon — at Fairbanks Park. Several committee members are responsible for providing all the visiting teams with transportation during their stay.
Games will be played Aug. 8-12, with the championship team being flown to North Carolina the following day.
A patron’s page naming tournament supporters is available for $25, Hayes said, and a patron’s page for former Post 346 players of any era is also available for the same price. Hayes said the Wayne Newton alumni have been enthusiastic about that feature so far, and he’d like to hear from more of them.
Fans of their teams from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — plus an out-of-town Indiana representative — will also be visiting for the weekend, of course.
“It’s expected to bring at least $500,000 into the community,” Hayes predicted.
Local fans should expect to see some great baseball too, he added. “People who come out and watch will enjoy it. For $5 they can see four games a day, and an all-tournament pass will be available for $20. You can’t beat that.”
Anyone interested in helping with any of the projects mentioned — or who has other ideas about how to contribute — is more than welcome to call Hayes at 812-466-4502 or 812-249-8436, he said. And the sooner the better.
“We don’t have to pay our bills until the tournament is over,” Hayes noted, “but there’s $15,000 [owed] to the [American Legion] national plus the rent of the ballpark right off the top … we’d like to get [the fund raising] wrapped up by July 15.”
Any offer will be appreciated, Hayes indicated.
“This will be a great showcase for Terre Haute and also for Indiana State University,” he said. “We want people to come here and leave saying, ‘Man, they did a great job putting this thing on.’ ”