Ozark baseball

Ozark grad Caleb Essick camps under fly ball at U.S. Baseball Park during the Show-Me Collegiate League last summer.

Ozark baseball coach Mike Essick is thrilled about the possibility of the Tigers playing for a state championship in their home away from home in years to come.

The Missouri State High Schools Activities Association announced Wednesday it has chosen U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark as the site of the State Baseball Championships from 2021-2025. 

 “I love it for this area,” Essick said. “I’m excited for it to be coming back to this part of the state. When it was at Meador Park (in Springfield) for five years and we won (the Class 4 state championship) in 2008, our fans had Meador packed. I know kids love to travel and stay in a hotel. But it was great that we got to sleep in our own beds and all our family and friends were able to come to the games.

“When we won (the Class 3 state championship) in 2004 in Columbia, we had a great contingent of fans there, but nothing like we had at Meador.

“I only wish it could have come back sooner than 2021,” added Essick, who will coach his 25th season at Ozark this spring and retire effective the end of the 2019-2020 school year. “I’ll be gone after 2020.”

Meador served as the site for State Baseball Championships from 1968-71, 1973, 1975 and 2007-2012. The state championships are currently held in St. Charles.

“I’m glad it’s coming back to the area,” Essick said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. With what (Bass Pro Shops founder) Johnny Morris has done with the Wonders Of Wildlife Museum and all that Branson and Springfield have to offer, plus Lambert’s, there’s so many things for kids and their families.

“Also, southwest Missouri is great about coming out and supporting high school athletics. Look at the Tournament Of Champions and Blue & Gold Tournament.” 

Paid attendance for the State Baseball Championships over the past five years in St. Charles has averaged 8,349 a year.

The Springfield Sports Commission assisted with U.S. Baseball Park General Manager Mark Stratton in the winning bid.

“The Sports Commission was honored to partner with U.S. Baseball Park in submitting the bid to host the MSHSAA State Baseball Championships,” said Lance Kettering, executive director of the Springfield Sports Commission. “The winning bid is a testament to coach Stratton, and the entire crew at U.S. Baseball Park. We are thrilled for the opportunity to work with coach Stratton to bring the State Baseball Championships back to our region and add to our list of outstanding events hosted in our region.”

“Bringing the State Baseball Championships back to our region will no doubt be well received,” Stratton added. “We are very pleased and appreciative of the support of the U.S. Baseball Park management team and their commitment to bring this prestigious event to southwest Missouri.

“Receiving this bid represents three things. First, it lines up with our continued goal and commitment to bring quality baseball to southwest Missouri. Secondly, it is a reflection and acknowledgement of our commitment to high school and amateur baseball and thirdly, it showcases the strength of regional partnerships. It is our privilege to continue to work with Lance Kettering to bring sporting events to the region for the benefit of our communities. We are excited to welcome families and athletes from all over Missouri to the gates of U.S. Baseball Park.”

Since U.S. Baseball Park underwent $2 million in renovations that included the installation of synthetic turf and an LED scoreboard in 2016, Ozark has played a portion of its home schedule at the 4,000-seat stadium that was built in 1999.

The Tigers are slated to play four game at U.S. Baseball Park this upcoming season. Drury plays its entire home schedule at the facility.

Essick prefers the vast dimensions at U.S. Baseball Park which include 328 feet to left field, 379 feet to left-center, 404 feet to center, 370 feet to right-center and 325 to right. In addition, a 20-foot fence from foul pole to foul pole keeps many long balls in play.

“We try to get in as many games as we can there,” Essick said. “To me, it’s more like real baseball. Pitchers love it, but hitters don’t. Balls that are popups or can-of-corn fly balls in that park can go out at a lot of fields. When the wind is blowing out at places like Willard, Kickapoo and Branson, it’s frustrating for pitchers to make a good pitch and then have the ball go out instead of getting a fly out.”

Dates for the State Baseball Championships in Ozark will include May 31-June 5 in 2021, May 30-June 4 in 2022, May 29-June 3 in 2023, May 27-June 1 in 2024 and June 2-June 7 in 2025.

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