THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Sports: Baseball tournament will fill county’s ballfields and hotels
By Jason Lesley
Motel rooms and pizza will be in short supply this weekend as Georgetown County plays host to 99 youth baseball teams from the Southeast competing in the Top Gun Baseball Winter Nationals.
Beth Goodale, county recreation director, said the tournament will use 17 baseball fields across the county for the tournament games that involve teams competing in age brackets from 8 to 15 years old. The county recreation staff has been mowing and preparing fields from Andrews and Pleasant Hill to Litchfield. “They are working fast and furiously all over the county,” Goodall said.
Members of the county’s recreation staff will wait until thunderstorms predicted for today blow through before they begin putting down the chalk lines for games. Goodale is hoping the weekend forecast of sunny weather with highs in the mid-60s holds up.
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There’s a small army of volunteers ready to man the concession stands at the parks. Umpires have been hired by tournament organizers.
Lauren Joseph, county tourism director, said all the motel rooms in Georgetown were booked early, and teams were filling up rooms at Pawleys Island and Litchfield before trying Myrtle Beach. The Hammock Coast web site promoted beach houses to visiting teams, but almost all prefer motels, she said.
Robert Cox coaches one of four teams from Georgetown County competing in the tournament. His 10-and-under team, G-Force, secured a place in the Winter Nationals by winning a Top Gun tournament. It won two, in fact. Teams that did not win a berth are paying a $1,500 entry fee, he said.
“To be honest with you, this is corporate baseball,” said Cox, who has coached for 30 years. Among the competitors will be teams sponsored by the sporting goods company Rawlings with players from different states.
G-Force, Cox said, is made up of players almost exclusively from Georgetown. “We play very talented teams from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina,” he said. “This is really a national event.”
Travel ball has become a phenomenon in the last 20 years. Children play Little League and recreation baseball from March to June, and all-stars keep playing on select teams until December, Cox said.
“This is high-end competition,” he said. “What carries a travel ball team is pitching.” He likes tournaments run by Top Gun and USSSA because teams are guaranteed at least four games during pool play with a chance to compete for a championship once they are seeded. “Everybody gets a chance to play a lot of baseball,” he said.
Cox thinks Georgetown County’s baseball facilities will stack up well against other tournament hosts. “We put all that money into new fields the last couple years,” he said. “I feel like the county did such a good job we’ve got enough to host one of these tournaments. If it had not been for the new fields in Andrews, Pleasant Hill and Georgetown, we would not have been asked to host.”
Cox said the visiting teams will bring an infusion of tourist cash into the county during a normally slow week before the Thanksgiving holiday. “The economic benefits are huge,” he said. “No. 1, all the motel rooms will sell out from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown. I would compare it to a small industry. They will buy gas, food, drinks, ice, you name it. There will be a domino effect.”