Two 10-foot wooden bats sit peacefully near centerfield of a baseball diamond. Players, coaches and fans gather around, drawn away from a wide variety of activities that includes pin trading, food and novelty vendors, a bouncy house for kids and even some comic relief. It is actually quite calm at the center of this field, at least in comparison to the surrounding celebrations.
Since the summer of 2003, SlumpBuster, a 575-team baseball tournament presented by Triple Crown Sports, has provided athletes aged nine through 18 the opportunity to compete with some of the top travel teams in America and experience the city of Omaha. Tonight is Festival Night, an evening that boasts a fireworks show and baseball competitions like the Skills Challenge and the East vs. West All-Star Game, in which each coach from the 13U and 14U teams sends a player to represent his squad. Young children run around, the brothers and sisters of players happy to have a chance to participate in one of the country’s greatest baseball tournaments. Adults enjoy themselves, too, listening to the comedy routine of social media star Domingo Ayelo, who emcees the event as a part of his Triple Crown Tour. Hot dogs and hamburgers cook on grills around the complex. The grass is freshly cut, too, and the heat—temperatures reached the upper 90s for the first weekend of the event—seems to bring out the aroma of ballpark cuisine and mowed lawns even more. America’s Pastime is alive and well here in eastern Nebraska. And though the sun is beginning to descend, the Omaha sky glows from the shine of field lights and the surrounding city.
But back to the 10-foot baseball bats. The crowd of spectators grows by the minute as officials prepare for what SlumpBuster director Brandon Hardy considers “the most exciting time” of the event. The bats still lie in the middle, angled upwards 45 degrees, crossed to form a massive X. The night grows darker; the show is about to begin.
With a bang and a blinding flash, the bats explode, much to the delight of giddy children standing 200 feet away. A fireworks show ensues, the type that would make even the most illustrious Fourth of July celebration proud. The show is unforgettable; Festival Night is a success at the 14th annual SlumpBuster Tournament in Omaha, Nebraska.
Triple Crown SlumpBuster! Biggest crowd ever (roughly 8,000 people). pic.twitter.com/FWZbvj8Kx4
— Brandon Hardy (@TCSBrandon) June 17, 2016
Slumpbuster combines quality baseball competition with the allure of a great American city. Not known for its size and certainly not boasting the same kinds of amenities as Chicago or New York, Omaha certainly knows one thing well: The game of baseball. The city has famously hosted the College World Series since 1950, at Rosenblatt Stadium until 2010 and at TD Ameritrade Park starting in 2011.
Though Rosenblatt is currently being demolished, TD Ameritrade Park offers Omaha a premier baseball stadium right in the middle of the city. Opened just five years ago, with a capacity of 35,000, the park was once in consideration for becoming the home of a Major League Baseball expansion team. It is most famous for hosting the eight best college teams in the United States every June, when thousands of fans flock to Nebraska to watch their favorite schools compete for a NCAA national championship. Each participating SlumpBuster team is given 20 tickets to one CWS contest. The offering is just another advantage of booking a travel team to compete in Omaha.
“The College World Series was awesome for the boys to experience,” said Don Cizek, head coach of a 13-year-old travel team that participated in the first session. “There was some great competition, plus we got to meet people from different states around the country.”
Four sessions make up the SlumpBuster event, taking place each weekend in the second half of June. With nearly 600 teams from 35 states across the nation, putting on a tournament like this isn’t easy. Director Brandon Hardy, who has been involved in SlumpBuster planning since 2010, faces a plethora of challenges each passing day.
“The hardest thing about running an event of this size is all the moving parts each day and the communication it takes,” Hardy said. “There’s also inclement weather some days that makes it tough.”
Indeed, Triple Crown schedules 1,500 games for the SlumpBuster and roughly 30% are rescheduled, as June is monsoon season in Omaha. Beyond the weather, tasks include working with top vendors from around the country and partnering with 45 hotels in the region. SlumpBuster contests occur at 19 different complexes in eight cities in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
Difficulties notwithstanding, the event and its administrators more often than not receive positive reviews from those who attend.
“The (Slumpbuster) tournament director and all the employees were the best we’ve experienced,” Cizek said. “They communicated well and seemed to understand what we as coaches and players want.”
New to the event in 2016 is the Triple Crown “invite-only” bracket. In this arrangement, eight teams from each age division compete similarly to the College World Series. Hardy expects the format to further improve the SlumpBuster event.
Triple Crown hosts a variety of top-notch events every year. Triple Crown Summer Nationals are scheduled for July 13-27 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, while the Triple Crown World Series will take place in multiple locations from California to Colorado. Besides these national tournaments, Triple Crown Sports holds a plethora of camps, clinics and smaller baseball events throughout the summer months.
The city of Omaha provides an abundance of attractions for players, coaches and fans beyond the College World Series. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers one of the best zoos in the country—it was recently named by TripAdvisor as the top zoo in the world. With the largest cat complex in North America and the “Desert Dome,” the biggest indoor desert in the world, Henry Doorly never fails to entertain kids and adults alike.
In addition, CenturyLink Center gives Omaha the type of convention complex regularly located in big cities with professional sports teams. The 1.1 million-square-foot facility boasts an 18,975-square-foot arena, a 194,000-square-foot exhibition hall and 62,000 square feet of valuable meeting space. Host to various basketball and hockey games, not to mention concerts and professional wrestling events, CenturyLink Center has been a staple of downtown Omaha since 2003.
Sprinkled with golf courses, museums and theaters, Omaha lacks not the entertainment value of a big city. Yet its love of baseball makes it different from all the rest.
“It was a great experience to play in a (youth) tournament and have the college tournament going on at the same time,” one player who participated in the first session said. His favorite aspect overall? The setting.
“The atmosphere in Omaha is awesome.”
A top choice among young baseball players, the annual SlumpBuster event makes the city buzz a little more in mid-to-late June, when fans of the game trek from across America to enjoy the nation’s greatest pastime. With exploding bats, ballpark hot dogs and some of the finest travel baseball competition in the country, SlumpBuster is certainly a summer spectacle.