LOWELL, Mass. – For the past 13 years, most America East baseball programs have been motivated by the potential for hosting the conference tournament in May by winning the regular-season title.
This season, they already know where the event will be held.
The league announced Wednesday that it will conduct the America East Conference Baseball Championship at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., home of the Lowell Spinners, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
It marks the first time the tourney has been held at a predetermined minor league facility since 2001, when it was played at Blue Rock Stadium in Wilmington, Del. The event is scheduled for May 22-25.
“Holding our baseball championship at a first-class minor-league facility enhances our ability to put on the best possible tournament for our student-athletes, coaches and fans,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a press release.
LeLacheur Park, a 4,767-seat stadium, opened in 1998. It also is used by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, which joins the conference next fall. The River Hawks will not be eligible for postseason play during the school’s four-year NCAA probationary period while making the transition from Division II to Division I.
The top four teams in America East advance to the tournament and compete for a spot in the NCAA tourney in a double-elimination format.
University of Maine coach Steve Trimper praised the conference, and Huchthausen in particular, for the move.
“Amy has really shown not only an interest in baseball, but she’s open to hearing the opinions of the coaches,” Trimper said.
He explained that the previous format created considerable stress in regard to travel arrangements. Those decisions often had to be made only two or three days before the championship began, because the site wasn’t determined until the previous weekend.
“Last year, so close to Memorial Day weekend, there wasn’t a lot of [hotel] availability on Long Island,” Trimper said. “It was such a pain for coaches and administrators.”
Trimper said Huchthausen has further demonstrated a commitment to baseball by getting the title game on ESPN3, the network’s Internet feed. In 2011, there was not even a phone line available for UMaine’s radio broadcasts, which instead were done on a cellphone.
The first three games and the “if necessary game” will be streamed live for free on AmericaEast.com through Pack Network. Game four will be available on ESPN3 as well as WatchESPN.com.
“Amy really felt strongly about that,” he said. “she wanted to promote the conference a little bit more and get some exposure for baseball.”
Last spring, Stony Brook became the first America East team to qualify for the College World Series since the conference started sponsoring the sport in 1990.