For the first time in the 85-year history of the National Baseball Congress World Series, the two-week tournament was hosted at another site than Lawrence-Dumont Stadium this summer.
Since the stadium was demolished this past spring in place of a new one for the incoming Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, the NBC World Series temporarily shifted to Wichita State’s Eck Stadium for the 85th edition of the tournament that concluded Saturday with the Seattle Studs defeating the Cheney Diamond Dawgs 5-4 in the title game.
Moving forward, NBC general manager Kevin Jenks is hopeful the tournament can be hosted at both Eck Stadium and the new downtown stadium. Jenks was encouraged after the tournament’s initial venture to Eck Stadium, which spanned 53 games in 15 days.
“We’re very grateful and appreciative of Wichita State allowing us to bring the event to Eck Stadium,” Jenks said. “It’s a long event with a lot of games, so for them to open up their house and let us come in and stay for two weeks was phenomenal. They’re great partners of ours and we look forward to sitting down with them and seeing how we can improve the process.”
Jenks was also pleasantly surprised when WSU made available its suites and the All-American Club for the tournament. He hoped the improved amenities would lead to bigger crowds. And for the last three days of the tournament, it did with sizable crowds packing Eck Stadium for championship week. But inviting larger crowds during the first week is still the goal for the tournament.
“Our first question was how would the community react to playing here,” Jenks said. “There were games when we had good crowds, then games where it was like, ‘Oh, OK, what’s going on here?’ I know there’s more things to do in our community than we had even two years ago, but I thought moving to a venue like (Eck Stadium), we’d have more.”
As for the teams, Jenks said he heard only positive feedback.
In years past, the Seattle Studs used to practice at Eck Stadium before their games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The switch was a welcomed change to the three-time NBC World Series champions.
“It’s a beautiful facility and there’s not a bad seat in the house,” Studs manager Barry Aden said. “It’s a cathedral to baseball and befitting of this tournament.”
But the one thing Eck Stadium cannot replace is the tradition tied to the NBC World Series that Lawrence-Dumont Stadium had.
“There’s no doubt that this is one of the best facilities in the country,” Diamond Dawgs manager Pat Hon said. “Not taking anything away from this place, but you just had that feeling when you were at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. It was just that environment and that history. For guys who have been doing this for 20 years like I have, it’s hard to replace that feel.”
Another thing that is difficult to replace is the routine established by the NBC staff over 84 years of hosting the tournament at the same location.
Jenks said he quickly learned of certain guidelines that his staff had to follow that were not previously in place at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. It wasn’t a negative, just a difference than the way things had been done before. It was a “feeling-out process” for both sides in the first year of the endeavor.
Now the challenge for Jenks is to nail down where the tournament will be held in 2020 and beyond, which could also lead to changes in the tournament field and how teams qualify in the coming years.
“It’s a challenge to engage a community for two straight weeks,” Jenks said. “I think we’re really going to have to look at our format and the number of teams we have coming in for next year, considering we’re likely going to have the World Series in two places and how we utilize that. We’ll work all of that out in the fall and early winter and I think those are all questions we’ll have answers to and we’ll make it work and get the job done.”