SPAMTown Challenge brings top talent

Published 9:35 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Austin Greyhounds will bring together some of the best amateur baseball talent in the Midwest and beyond as they host the SPAMTown Challenge this week at Marcusen Park and Riverland.

Austin Greyhounds pitcher John Kirby hurls against Westmont, Ill. during last year’s SPAMtown Challenge. -- Herald File Photo

The tournament will have eight teams from Minnesota, four from Wisconsin, two from Illinois, one from Iowa and one from New York.

“This years tournament is top notch,” Hounds manager John Frein said. “We anticipate the best tournament yet in terms of team quality and atmosphere at the ballparks.”

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The Peekskill Tides of NY are taking a 1,200 mile plane ride to play in the challenge. They played in the tournament last season and they decided to come back again.

“We always try to make at least one trip during the summer and I’ve been everywhere from Arizona to Alabama,” Tides manager Chris Jones, who has been making trips to tournaments for the last 15 years, said. “I can tell you that the quality in (the SPAMTown Challenge) is better than any of the other places. The entire field is good and it’s not just a few good teams.”

The Tide held fundraisers throughout the year to front the bill for the trip. They hold raffles, run concessions and players also have to pay a fee.

The team also gets help from Turner Construction, which built the New Yankee Stadium. The owner of that company lives in Peekskill, which is 45 minutes north of New York City.

The trip is worth the price for the Tides, who play in a 15-team league that is very competitive.

“We use it to get closer and bond and we get better,” Jones said.

Besides playing tough competition, Jones said the team is coming back to Austin due to friendliness of the people and the quality of Marcusen Park. The Tide play in a stadium that is right on the Hudson River across from West Point but they love coming to Marcusen.

“It’s got a great vibe to it and it’s nicer than the places we play in over here,” Jones said. “We’ve also gotten chances to play in places like Red Wing while making our visit.”

For one of the Tides pitcher Shawn Tarkington, the trip to Minnesota will bring him back to his younger days. Tarkington was drafted in the 22nd round by the Minnesota Twins in 2002 and he pitched to Joe Mauer and played with Jason Kubel in the minor leagues.

The Tides, who play Cold Spring at Riverland at 4:30 p.m. and Eau Claire at 8:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park Saturday, also have the Division III National Player of the Year on their roster in shortstop Jeff Schult of Western New England.

The Hounds will play in a pool that features Caroll, Iowa, the defending SPAMTown champs Onalaska, Wis. and the Kewaskum, Wis. A’s.

“This tournament is an indicator of how our season’s going to go,” Frein said. “This is when we gear up and hopefully start clicking. It would be cool to win our own tournament.”

The Onalaska A’s won the SPAMTown title last season and they have played in the Wisconsin Baseball Association state title game two of the past three years.

The tournament also features Minnetonka, which has won 10 of the last 13 Minnesota Class ‘A’ state titles — including last season’s.

Minnetonka has won the SPAMTown Challenge just once.

“That just shows how difficult this tournament is,” Frein said. “Anyone can win it.”

On Friday night at 6 p.m. the Austin All-Stars 12 and under team will be recognized prior to the game.

There will be a Block Party held at Marcusen Park tent Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. to allow players to get to know each other. It includes a hog roast, live music from the Joe Kroc Band, beer and games.

“We’re trying to cater to the players more this year,” Frein said. “We’re trying to get guys to stick around Saturday night and get to know each other.”

Admission for the tournament is $5 a day for adults and $2 for kids 14 and up.


Thursday, June 23

Rochester Royals vs. Westmont, Ill. Red Sox, 7 p.m. at Mayo Field; Austin Greyhounds vs. Carroll, Iowa Vikings, 7:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park

Friday, June 24

Carroll, Iowa Vikings vs. Kewaskum Wis. A’s, 4 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Austin Greyhounds vs. Onalaska, Wis., 6:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Shakopee Indians vs. Westmont, Ill. Red Sox, 6:30 p.m. at Riverland; Minnetonka Millers vs. Prescott, Wis. Pirates, 7 p.m. at Riverland; Dundas vs. Peekskill NY Tides, 7:30 p.m. at Dundas; Rochester Royals vs. Chicago, Jayhawks, 8:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Chaska Cubs vs. Owatonna Aces, 8:30 p.m. at Riverland; Cold Spring vs. Eau Claire, Wis. Cavaliers, 9 p.m. at Riverland

Saturday, June 25

Shakopee vs. Chicago, Ill. Jayhawks, 10 a.m. at Riverland; Minnetonka vs. Owatonna Aces, 10 a.m. at Marcusen Park; Kewaskum, Wis. vs. Onalaska, Wis., 11 a.m. at Riverland; Minnetonka Millers vs. Chaska Cubs, 10 a.m.; Dundas vs. Eau Claire, Wis. Cavaliers, noon at Riverland; Caroll, Iowa vs. Onalaska, Wis., 1:30 p.m. at Riverland; Chaska Cubs vs. Prescott, Wis., 2 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Dundas vs. Cold Spring, 2:30 p.m. at Riverland; Chicago, Ill. Jayhawks vs. Westmont, Ill. Red Sox, 3:30 p.m. at Riverland; Austin Greyhounds vs. Kewaskum, Wis., 4:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Cold Spring vs. Peekskill NY Tides, 4:30 p.m. at Riverland; Prescott, Wis. vs. Owatonna, 4:30 p.m. at Riverland; Rochester Royals vs. Shakopee Indians, 6:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park; Peekskill NY Tides vs. Eau Claire Cavaliers, 8:30 p.m. at Marcusen Park

Sunday, June 26

Semifinals at Riverland, 9 a.m. and at Marcusen Park, 9:30 a.m.

Championship at Marcusen Park, noon