Henrico County: Hardball hotbed

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline spurred a flurry of moves yesterday, as contending teams made deals to improve their chances of making the playoffs and, ultimately, winning the World Series.

Here at home, Henrico County officials were busy making a baseball-related move earlier this week, too, but in their case it was an extension rather than a new acquisition.

Days after the national Triple Crown U.S. Baseball Championships got under way in Henrico – the fifth consecutive year the county has hosted the 10-day event for 16-, 17- and 18-year-old players – Henrico officials reached an agreement with tournament organizers that will keep the tournament here during each of the next three years.

The move solidifies Henrico’s growing national reputation as a hotbed for youth baseball – and for youth sports in general, though if you’re not immersed in youth sports, you might not have noticed.

The Triple Crown tournament is a college showcase of sorts, this year drawing coaches from at least 26 colleges and universities who come to see some of the nation’s best players all in one place. This year’s event included 78 teams from more than a dozen states – as far away as Minnesota, California and Washington state. Each played a minimum of five games at various sites throughout Henrico and the Richmond region, including the primary site, Glen Allen Stadium at RF&P Park in Glen Allen.

The tournament brought with it an estimated $4 million economic benefit to the county (through hotel room rentals, meals and shopping expenses, among others), according to Henrico Tourism Supervisor Dawn Miller.

But the benefits of baseball won’t leave when the tournament ends – and county officials didn’t need to pull off any last-minute trades to get to a World Series. All they’ll need to do is drive back to Glen Allen Stadium in two weeks when the Babe Ruth Baseball 13-year-old World Series arrives for its weeklong stay.

Hosting that tournament will be nothing new for the county, which (through the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association) has hosted several Babe Ruth World Series championships in recent years already, along with numerous state and regional Babe Ruth and Little League Baseball tournaments throughout the county.

Henrico officials are now in the business of turning these events – and similar tournaments for soccer, lacrosse and other youth sports – into a calling card. . . and a significant source of revenue. Parents who bring their young athletes to these events – often with the rest of their families in tow – tend to make the experience as much of a vacation as they can. And county officials are doing their best to help encourage it.

“That's what we are trying to provide for them,” Miller said. “We know that they may not be able to go to Disney World after this.”

Miller and other county staffers have been on site throughout the Triple Crown tournament, chatting with attendees, offering advice about local amenities and places to eat, she said.

“There’s nothing better than just being out there and talking with them,” she said.

They’ll be similarly involved when the Babe Ruth World Series begins with opening ceremonies and a banquet Aug. 15. Visitors to that tournament won’t have to go far to get a real taste of Henrico; the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association plans to bring food trucks from local restaurants to the site.

These tournaments (and the many soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and yes, even quidditch tournaments hosted throughout the county) are clear examples of how youth sports have become big business – and not just for the organizations that operate them. That many of them take place under the radar – especially for citizens who don’t have direct connections to them – doesn’t negate their impact to the county. This year, that financial benefit is expected to creep closer to $40 million annually (it was $36.5 million last year), thanks to what Miller termed the busiest summer ever for sports in Henrico.

“We need more fields, as fast as we can [get them] to accommodate as many tournaments and youth associations as we can,” she said. “We don’t let a field go to waste.”

As Richmond officials debate in seemingly never-ending fashion how to capitalize on the benefits of minor league baseball and whether to build a new stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels in Shockoe Bottom or on the Boulevard, Henrico officials are quietly finding real value in youth sports.

They wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
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October 2017
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