Monday, June 9, 2008

The tourney is tops in Fort Atkinson

This past Thursday and Friday marked the beginning of the annual Fort Atkinson tournament that spans three weeks and culminates with the championship game being played during the city’s yearly Baseball Festival.

If only the coaches would have known that Sunday’s Home Talent League slate of games would have been wiped out by rain.

Had they had the foresight to predict the stormy weather the weekend had in store, they could have gotten their staff aces some pitching work during the opening round of games.

The Fort Atkinson tournament is considered one of the best amateur tournaments in the area, and most teams have to alter their schedule just to fit it in.

According to Stoughton manager Jim Winter, “I consider the Fort tournament just like a Sunday game where every team that comes here usually plays their Sunday starters except for maybe their pitcher. They’ll use their No. 2 or 3.”

Stoughton was able to get by Jefferson in the first round in extra innings, so Blue Devils manager Jeff Laesch knows just how competitive this tournament can be not only against Stoughton, but against the host team as well.

When asked if thinks this tournament is taken more seriously than the usual Thursday Night games, Laesch replied, “I think so, obviously with the five mile distance between Jefferson and Fort. And we’ve always had good success down here. So I think we probably do. It’s usually your starters that are playing in this tournament because it’s a big thing. It’s big crowds, and everybody likes to play on that Friday night of Fort Fest.”

Even though Jefferson lost during the opening round, they’re still alive and still have a chance to compete during the desired Friday night slot of the Baseball Festival on June 20 through the consolation bracket.

As an added bonus, there’s even a stipend that goes along with becoming the first or second place finishers in the eight team tournament as well as the only team that makes it through the consolation bracket undefeated.

The coaches insist it’s not about the money, though. They’re just glad to be getting good competition in a competitive environment.

Laesch was representative of the rest of the coaches when he said, “Mainly it’s kind of a bragging rights type thing. And it’s always good to win this tournament. Everybody’s always played in it for years. So I don’t think the money has anything to do with it. To be honest, we’d come over to the concession stand and spend it.”

That’s part of what the Home Talent League is all about. There’s sort of a gentlemen’s agreement among visiting teams to help support the hosts. On any given day, you’ll see the visitors supporting the home team and socializing with their opponents after nearly every game.

And it’s hard to pass up the chance to play at Jones Park in Fort Atkinson as well. Known as one of the best ballparks in the Home Talent League, the opportunity to play up to three games on a well-manicured diamond is too much to pass up.

“We just love playing here,” said Winter. “It’s obviously the best field in our section. They take really good care of it, it’s a great environment … and they always get good crowds.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Cross Plains at Ashton on Sunday June 15 for the annual Ashton Picnic on Father's Day.

Brian Carriveau is writing a book about the Home Talent League this summer. He can be contacted at

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