A state tourney in Ely Legion baseball’s top teams in town Aug. 2-4

$10 passes on sale

In less than two weeks, Minnesota’s top small-school American Legion baseball teams will be in Ely.
And they’ll be bringing family, friends and fans.
The community is sure to be abuzz with baseball fever for the Division II State Tournament, set for Aug. 2-4 at Ely’s historic and recently revamped Veterans Memorial Field.
The countdown is on to the ballpark’s first state tournament in six years and the festivities begin in earnest Thursday, Aug. 1, when all eight teams gather for check-in and photos at the ballpark during the afternoon and a banquet in town that night.
About 150 players and coaches are expected to be joined by hundreds of others, including parents and officials, relatives and community members following their respective teams to state and filling the town.
“It’s a major, major event and we’re fortunate to be hosting it again in Ely,” said Tom Coombe, Ely’s American Legion coach and part of a local tournament organizing committee. “The atmosphere at the ballpark should be fantastic, and you’ll be seeing baseball people all over town for four days.”
Local officials say the tournament will provide a sizeable jolt to the local economy, with mayor Chuck Novak contending Tuesday that “it won’t equate to a Blueberry Fest but it might equal a Harvest Moon,” noting the community’s two major festivals.
The event marks the return of big-time baseball to Veterans Memorial Field, a venue for countless tournaments over the last several decades.
Ely hosted a VFW state tournament in 2013 and last hosted the Division II Legion State Tournament, for communities with high school enrollments under 400, in 2011.
It will be the ninth state Legion tournament to be held in Ely and preparations have been underway for months.
A ballpark facelift
Those have included a major renovation project at the ballpark, coordinated by the Ely Baseball Association and funded almost entirely by private sources.
The $45,000 project included the installation of new netting on the first and third base sides, the removal of aging wooden bleachers, creation of a new paved pavilion area complete with tables and high-top chairs, new exterior fencing and the construction of a viewing deck at the top of the first base bleachers.
The work has been completed over the last several weeks and the new look has been a hit with spectators who have been in town for games and tournaments this summer.
“We’ve had a lot of compliments already, and the improvements have really dressed things up,” said Coombe. “The netting is so much easier to see through, and there may not be a better place to watch a game then the paved area on the third base side. If you haven’t seen what’s been done, we invite you to come and take a look.”
The Ely Baseball Association secured $15,000 grants from both St. Louis County
and the Ely Education Foundation and dedicated $5,000 of its own funds for the initiative. The Ely School District, which owns the ballpark, contributed $3,000 from its long-term facilities maintenance fund, while the DQ Grill and Chill purchased the pavilion furniture and Mesabi Bituminous/Nemanich Trucking paid for part of the fencing replacement.
Field maintenance supervisor Aaron Donais is coordinating other touch-ups to the field, which have included several improvements to the turf and playing surface. Further work is scheduled in the days leading up to the tournament.
$10 passes on sale
While a state tournament will make cash registers ring throughout the area, the local committee must cover a roughly $30,000 budget that includes lodging for all seven visiting teams and tournament officials.
They’ve lined up several major sponsors, including Twin Metals Minnesota, the DQ Grill and Chill, Mesabi Bituminous/Nemanich Trucking, Steger Mukluks, Zup’s Food Market, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabiitation Board, RMS, Fortune Bay Resort/Casino and the North American Bear Center.
They’re also offering a pre-tournament special, with tournament passes available for $10 until July 28.
Passes are good for all tournament games and include a chance at numerous prizes including $1,000 cash, a pair of Steger Mukluks and a gift card from Ely’s Wintergreen Northern Wear.
Organizers are marketing the pass to baseball fans, those who would like a chance at the prizes and those who simply want to support the tournament.
“From a fan’s perspective it’s a great deal,” said Coombe. “If you wait until the tournament, you’ll be paying $7 a session or $10 a day to get in, so the pass pays for itself. Add the prizes into the mix and you can’t beat it.”
Passes are on sale at the Ely Echo, from local baseball players and at Veterans Memorial Field this weekend as the ballpark hosts the Eighth District Legion Tournament.
The district tournament is a dry run of sorts in advance of the state event.
The host Ely team, which is 16-7 this summer, has an automatic bid into the state tournament and has the top seed among Eighth District teams.
Ely will play its first state tournament game on Friday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m., against the substate champion from northwestern Minnesota.
The game caps a full day of baseball that will also include the tournament opening ceremony, involving all eight teams as well as a veterans’ tribute.
The tournament wraps up with the state title game, presented by Twin Metals Minnesota, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4.