Partington's background brought baseball here
When the Port Charlotte Invitational college baseball tournament skipped town, Steve Partington decided to step in and find a replacement.
Partington, a retiree who used to umpire in Ohio for Big 10 and Mid-American Conference college games, lives in North Port with his wife. He didn't think the area should lose an opportunity to host a college tournament.
"I had to see what I could do," Partington said.
So, two years ago, he began putting together the framework of what became the Snowbird Baseball Classic. He relied on friendships and associations made through years of umpiring -- including some acquaintances who now live in the area or have second homes here. As an example, he points to one of his neighbors, who he said is from Wooster College in Ohio.
The response, he said, was enthusiastic. Several college baseball teams, especially those in the Midwest and in the Northeast, look for tournaments in warm weather states and they leaped at the opportunity to participate.
One of the results that most pleased him most about this past winter's event was that it raised several thousand dollars for the Punta Gorda and Murdock Little League teams.
There were other aspects that he found pleasing, he said, such as the fact Major League scouts from several teams attended, including those from Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado and Tampa Bay.
"One of the ballplayers, Aaron Dott, with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was drafted," he said. "He's a left-handed pitcher. He went in the 31st round by the Rays."
Of the teams that participated, two of them made it to the Division III World Series -- Carthage College and Wooster College -- the latter made it to the final game, he added.
Unlike the Port Charlotte Invitational, the Snowbird Baseball Classic was much smaller in scope.
At its height, the Invitational had between 80 and 100 college teams from four divisions participating: Division II, Division III, NAIA and community colleges. This year's inaugural tournament featured only Division III schools, 23 in all.
Part of the reason for the smaller slate was the availability of ballfields that fulfilled college standards. Partington said only two fit the bill: South County and North County Regional parks. Another limitation was the number of games that could be played each day.
However, Partington said he hopes to secure more fields for next year, as he projects there will be 30 to 40 teams participating.
He wants to expand the tournament to include local high schools and higher Division I college teams -- including The Ohio State University, Duquesne and St. Louis University.
"I've probably turned down 30 Division I teams," he said.
In addition to the nearly two years it took to assemble the classic, Partington said it cost nearly $100,000. That expense was defrayed in part by a $10,000 grant from the Florida Sports Foundation that the Charlotte Harbor Visitor and Convention Bureau was able to secure.
"We are one of 21 sports commissions able to apply," Sean Doherty, sales and marketing manager for the Charlotte Harbor Visitor and Convention Bureau, said. "The grant was awarded because it fulfilled a criteria: 'How many people will this bring in from out-of-state.'"
Hotels and restaurants, Partington said, were of tremendous help, especially restaurants that gave away free meals as well as deeply discounted coupons. He said 11 hotels have already signed up for next year, as well as people who have condos for rent.
For next year's tournament, Partington is looking for additional sponsors who will provide prizes and other goods for spectators.
One of the things Partington learned was the need for volunteers to provide services such as taking tickets, working concessions, and serving as concierges providing information about directions, other attractions, even restaurants. Anyone interested in asked to visit the tournament's Web site: www.snowbirdbaseball.com, or e-mail Partington at: email@example.com
By STEVE STEINER
You can find more information on the Snowbird Baseball Classic here