Labor Day tourney moves to IM’s Ranger Field

The Fox Cities Squatches celebrate a walk-off win over Escanaba in the UP Hardball Classic championship game in 2017. The 49th annual UP Hardball Classic will be held at Ranger Field in Iron Mountain this weekend. (Adam Niemi/The Daily News Photo, File)

IRON MOUNTAIN — The annual Labor Day weekend baseball tournament, known as the UP Hardball Classic, has a new venue.

After 47 years of play on the humble diamond in Felch, the tournament will be held at Ranger Field for the first time.

Tournament organizer Ed Felten, manager of tournament sponsor Solbergs Greenleaf in Iron Mountain, said a couple factors influenced the decision to move the tournament.

“We have a historic, great field that needed some work to make it happen and that work wasn’t going to be able to happen,” Felten said. “We were presented with the fact that if we want the tournament to happen or not to happen, where can we have it? Ranger Field, which the community has backed so hard. We were actually planning to sell the bar and moving everybody to Iron Mountain. We planned on relocating (the tournament) here at a later time possibly. To continue the UP Hardball Classic, we wanted to bring it and not let it go down. The positives were amazing. We have seven teams like we had last year, except for the Felch team.”

Ranger Field, long forgotten as a baseball diamond, was relegated to a dog park until before last season when Iron Mountain High School formed a baseball team and reclaimed the field. The infield received a facelift — the infield grass was flattened and the batter’s box, pitcher’s mound and infield dirt were dug up and rebuilt. Batter’s cages were installed and a new concession stand and press box building was constructed.

More renovations have yet to take place, Felten said, including new dugouts.

All of this work, he said, is aligned with an effort to rejuvenate baseball in the area.

“Two high school teams, the rejuvenation of the (Iron Mountain American Legion) Golds, who won a state tournament up there… the charity softball tournament up there… it really has spurred up,” Felten said. “The concessions have been all going to the Little League, so it’s been helping the entire community, no matter where they are. I just feel like the UP Hardball Classic is going to be a great vehicle to stimulate and energize the baseball in our area. It’s great for the community too.”

The 48th annual tournament begins Saturday with a 9 a.m. game between Fox Cities and Appleton. Saturday concludes with a 5 p.m. matchup. The semifinal games will be held at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Monday with the championship game at 2 p.m.

When the seven teams take the field over the weekend, six will be looking to change the course of the tournament’s recent history.

In each of the last two years, the Fox Cities Squatches rallied in the bottom of the seventh for walk-off wins for the tournament championsihp. Both times came against Escanaba.

This year, there will not be a team representing Felch. Marquette is in its place. The other teams in this year’s tournament include Fox Cities, Escanaba, Appleton, Houghton, Langsdorf and Bonduel.

But baseball players, coaches and fans are culturally recognized as resistant to change. Felten said he’s not surprised about some reaction to the tournament leaving Felch, a ball field tucked against some woods and flanked by a Little League Field and the Felch Fire Department garage.

“If people travel from Iron Mountain to Felch, there’s no reason why people can’t still do those things that you were doing in Felch,” Felten said. “It’s not Felch, it’s not, but at the same time it is the UP Hardball Classic. We will build new memories.”

Dek Forstrom, a longtime area coach and organizer for the UP Hardball Classic, said the move to Ranger Field is among the baseball decisions — local or professional — that were first viewed with skepticism and doubt.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes happen to baseball over the years,” Forstrom said. “I remember when they put up lights at Wrigley, when they started the designated hitter in the AL. This is one of those changes that people don’t like and I understand that. But once they get out on that field Labor Day weekend, it’s still baseball.”

UP Hardball Classic

Ranger Field

Iron Mountain, Mich.

All Times CDT

Saturday, Sept. 1

First Round

Game 1

Fox Cities (Wis.) vs. Appleton (Wis.), 9 a.m.

Game 2

Greenville vs. Escanaba, 11 a.m.

Game 3

Bonduel (Wis.) vs. Marquette, 1 p.m.

Game 4

Langsdorf (Wis.) vs. Houghton, 3 p.m.

Game 5

Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 2

Game 6

Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m.

Game 7

Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 11 a.m.

Game 8

Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 1 p.m.

Game 9

Game 6 winner vs. Game 5 loser, 3 p.m.

Game 10

Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 5 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 3

Semifinals

Game 11

Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 10 a.m.

Game 12

Game 9 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 12 p.m.

Championship

Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 2 p.m.

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