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Memories - good or bad - of the baseball and softball finals being played at Bailey Park in Battle Creek, will be just that. The MHSAA has decided to move them to East Lansing, beginning this spring. In this 1996 file photo, Rochester Adams shortstop Bill LaRosa sits on the field at C.O. Brown Stadium after his team's 7-3 loss to Mt. Pleasant in the Class A state championship game. (The Oakland Press file photo)

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DUNLAP: Moving baseball/softball finals to MSU was right decision by MHSAA, but Battle Creek will still be missed

Madison Heights Bishop Foley remembers the first year the baseball finals were held at Bailey Park in Battle Creek. Unfortunately - as seen on this program image from 1990 - the Ventures fell to Stevensville-Lakeshore 6-2 in the Class B title game. (Courtesy of the MHSAA)

For years, I knew this was a column I was going to dread writing, and when the day came where I finally did it, I was going to rip the Michigan High School Athletic Association to shreds.

But now that the time has come, only one of those instances is the case.

Yes, Iím saddened to be writing about how the state baseball/softball semifinals and finals will be moving from Battle Creek to Michigan State University, but there is no way I can even send an ounce of criticism towards the MHSAA because it is an understandable move despite some glaring questions and concerns.

But more on the good sense of the decision and the questions/concerns in a little bit.

Right now, I need to thank Battle Creek, which hosted the baseball/softball semifinals the past 24 years, for helping produce what was my personal favorite preps sporting event of the entire calendar.

Of course, I can hear the snickering and laughing of many out there, and that is OK, because I am plenty used to it. I get it year-round from people who have known this about me for years, assuming the reason I point to the event every year is because Iím the biggest baseball nut in the world.

While I do enjoy high school baseball and softball more than a lot of people, itís not like I love those sports a whole lot more than I love others.

Itís just that I value the uniqueness of every high school sport, and the state finals of those sports, just as much as football and basketball.

Thereís nothing like the week-long buildup and community excitement that the football finals bring every November, and there is something unique about the student support and indoor noise state finals in basketball, wrestling and hockey bring.

Heck, I even enjoy the golf finals, where there is nothing like the tension of seeing scores come in at the clubhouse with a state championship in the balance, or watching teams nervously trying to protect a one-goal lead in the final minutes of a soccer final.

However, there was a special magic each June when Battle Creek hosted the baseball/softball semifinals on Friday and the finals on Saturday that no other finals event offered, even if it didnít have the week-long buildup of the football finals or anywhere close to the student/fan support of other events.

By mid-June, graduation parties are taking place and summer vacation plans are in full swing, which led to lots of empty seats unless there was a prep-mad community there to support a team.

Still, the baseball/softball finals in Battle Creek stood on its own for a variety of reasons, and to quote the famous movie ďHappy Gilmore,Ē was my happy place for two days each year in the middle of June.

One, Bailey Park had multiple diamonds that allowed for semifinal and final games to be played simultaneously.

You could walk along the three baseball diamonds and the two softball fields in use and see dramatic games taking place on all of them at the same time.

Can you imagine there being an adjacent field at Ford Field with another football final taking place, or fans walking back-and-forth between the main court and an auxiliary court at Breslin Center for basketball semifinals that are being held at the same time?

The individual and team wrestling finals have this element also, but itís not outdoors in good weather like at the baseball/softball finals.

It was a finals event where you can roam around in shorts and a t-shirt in a park setting and not only watch some good games, but lots of them at the same time in sunshine.

And because there were multiple fields in use at Bailey Park, it allowed the MHSAA to have it as a two-day event where even Mother Nature had a hard time affecting it.

Any rain delays could be offset by the fact the schedule could always be put back on track by more than one game being played at the same time.

That will not be the case at MSU, where there is one diamond for each sport, meaning semifinal games will be played on Thursday and Friday before Saturdayís finals.

Not only does that mean rain delays could really throw things off schedule, but baseball teams that win quarterfinal games on Tuesday and are forced to play on Thursday better not be relying on just one pitcher because they will have to play a semifinal two days later.

Also, as has also been shown with the volleyball and team wrestling finals, Battle Creek goes the extra mile with providing hospitality to media members and fans.

An example is that in recent years, volunteers would provide chicken and small-steak dinners to media members, where as in contrast, media dinners at Ford Field for the football finals are chips and cheese in hopes you confuse those for nachos.

Seriously.

There was also plenty of available and free parking at Bailey Park that was within a short walk to all the fields, something that might not be the case at MSU.

So with all this in mind about the baseball/softball finals in Battle Creek, you probably are wondering why Iím not in full-tirade mode screaming at the MHSAA for moving the event to MSU.

Truth be told, I canít even deny it is a good decision.

Facilities at Battle Creek are outdated, and it is a major upgrade to move to the fully renovated and beautiful baseball/softball fields at MSU.

The softball community has every reason to say good riddance to Battle Creek, because now they can play on diamonds with typical infield clay used at college stadiums, not the recreation-field type of dirt that probably made coaches and players feel like they were in the middle of a dust bowl.

Having the finals centrally located in the middle of the state never is a bad thing either.

I just hope in six months, the rain will hold off and there will be the same magic and happy-place feel at MSU for the baseball/softball finals as there was in Battle Creek for almost a quarter-century.

Keith Dunlap is the high school sports coordinator for the Oakland Press. E-mail him at keith.dunlap@oakpress.com and follow him on Twitter @kd2578.

Last Updated: 12/12/2013 5:50:20 PM EST


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