The 2017 summer American Legion A baseball season is humming along, nearing the halfway point as teams from up and down the state seek to train for next year's spring season while simultaneously vying for the recognition as the state's best summer team over the eight-week schedule.
The season comes to a close at the end of July in the eight-team state tournament, and the North Marion baseball team — called North Willamette Valley during the Legion season — has already booked its ticket.
While every other Legion team in the state is battling to qualify for the tournament, North Willamette Valley is assured a seat at the tournament table by virtue of hosting the event, which will be July 26-30 at Bob Brack Stadium on the North Marion High School campus.
"It's a cool deal and I'm excited for the kids to get the opportunity," North Willamette Valley assistant coach Tucker Brack said. "It's kind of a pretty big deal. You have to put in a bid for it and they have to accept you, and you have to do it right by the American Legion."
The tournament represents a big opportunity for the North Marion baseball program. The event draws hundreds of spectators, supporters and family members from around the state to come watch their kids and teams vie for a state title.
As hosts, the North Marion baseball program stands to profit from the proceeds of the event, from tickets to the program that the team will print and sell to patrons. The program is responsible for setting pricing and attracting spectators to the venue, a job that Brack and his family — brother Ty and dad Randy — are taking very seriously.
"We're going to keep it very reasonable," Tucker Brack said. "We'll have family passes, tournament passes — we want it to be an event to bring your kids to and sit out there to watch with your kids at night."
Brack wants to keep the atmosphere festive and inviting. The Aurora Legionnaires will present the colors on the first night, there will be 50-50 raffles going on throughout the event, and the North Marion boosters will be involved with the event as well, selling concessions and t-shirts.
The event will also be a homecoming of sorts for Brack, who was a member of the North Willamette Valley team the last time the tournament was hosted at North Marion High School.
"The last time we hosted it, I was going to be a freshman in high school," Brack said. "We drew some pretty huge crowds."
In the 21 years since the last tournament in North Marion, the facilities at Bob Brack Stadium have seen some serious upgrades.
"The hitting facility wasn't there. There was no stadium park seating. We had to bring in extra bleachers. There was no standing room (platform) when I played, and it's maintained by one person. One guy does that by himself," Brack said, referring to his dad who has coached the North Marion baseball team off and on since 1977.
Randy Brack has had plenty of assistance to help maintain the North Marion baseball facilities throughout the decades, but he has been in charge of maintenance for years, as he can often be seen on a tractor in the outfield during the offseason, fertilizing or mowing the grounds to keep the grass pristine for the spring and summer seasons.
Tucker Brack recalled a conversation he had with former Husky Kory Casto, who graduated in 2000 and went on to play in the MLB with the Washington Nationals.
"He said there's not a better surface than (North Marion's) in the big leagues," Brack said. "He said when he played, Wrigley was terrible. You're not going to find a better surface around."
North Willamette Valley baseball
The North Willamette Valley baseball team is coming off a pair of losses last week to the Newport Tide and Northwest Star Academy teams in American Legion play.
The Huskies opened the week with a 15-7 loss to Newport on June 19 and followed with a 12-7 loss to Star Academy on June 21.
Against the Tide, North Willamette Valley got out to a hot start in the bottom of the first inning, plating four runs to take an early 4-1. But the Tide took advantage of seven Husky errors on the day, which led to seven unearned runs against North Willamette Valley starter Grant Henry, who went on to take the loss. He was relieved by brother Griffin Henry, who was tagged for six more runs, four of them earned.
Offensively, the Huskies were held relatively quiet after the opening inning. Griffin Henry was the lone member of the team to connect multiple times, finishing 2-for-4 with a run scored.
In the second game of the week, errors once again proved to be the deciding factor in the loss to Northwest Star Academy.
Starting pitcher Ryan Olson gave up seven runs, none of them earned, as the Huskies committed five miscues in the field. North Willamette Valley was down 8-0 before rallying in the latter half of the game, scoring two runs in the fourth and five more in the sixth, but it wasn't enough to mitigate the damage done in the beginning of the game.
Hunter Schrenk and Isaac Hansen led the team on offense, each of them going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored.