Together again

Opening day of the state softball tournament comes with an added twist this summer.

Forty teams from five classes will be in Fort Dodge on a championship mission, which is standard operating procedure. Almost 700 players and 20,000 fans are here for the 45th consecutive year, and before all is said and done at Rogers Sports Complex, the event’s overall aggregate attendance will eclipse 800,000 people.

The new wrinkle is RAGBRAI, which also cruises into town Monday. An estimated 15,000 guests are on their way, and will make an overnight stop for the first time since 2004.

Did I mention both the Fort Dodge and St. Edmond softball teams – already de facto host schools for state – are in the quarterfinals of their respective classes? That’s happened only one other time, in 2006. And when do the Dodgers play? You guessed it: Monday evening, at 5 p.m.

Needless to say, our plate is full for the upcoming week. Any time a town of 26,000 virtually doubles in size during one 24-hour period of time, there will be hiccups along the way.

As it happens, your patience will be greatly appreciated. Short-term inconveniences are a part of the process, especially as the Fort Dodge community continues to grow.

We’re anxious to see how the fans and media react to the latest round of Rogers Sports Complex renovations, which were completed in May. The eight-month, $590,000 project added new main bleacher structures behind home plate on Diamonds 1 and 2, and both the first- and third-base line bleachers were also refurbished.

A new press box now perches over both diamonds for fellow newspaper, radio, television and web personalities covering games this week. I have a feeling the upgrades will create an unprecedented environment; the Dodger and Gael games, in particular, should be quite an experience.

The Messenger’s award-winning sports department is committed to bringing readers blanket coverage of all 60 state softball games in the days to come. Game stories, statistics, pictures, brackets, features and social media updates are all a part of the package.

We’re also devoting an entire webpage to the tournament – click on the ‘State Softball’ icon on the left side of our sports site – and a 32-page special section is again in today’s paper, which highlights all of the programs in action. Photo galleries will be available through our ‘CU’ location on-line as well.

Fresh faces dominate this year’s landscape. While three of the five defending state champions are back – Johnston (5A), Dallas Center-Grimes (4A), and Clarke (3A) – tourney staples West Des Moines Dowling, Akron-Westfield, Carlisle and Martensdale St. Mary’s were all eliminated in regional competition. Mid-Prairie and Bondurant-Farrar also had long state-qualifying streaks come to an end as well.

Lynnville-Sully now sports the steadiest run of consecutive appearances at six in a row. West Des Moines Valley, Solon and Dallas Center-Grimes, meanwhile, have all made it to Fort Dodge in five straight campaigns.

Mount Pleasant, Pella, Boyden Hull/Rock Valley, and River Valley are all first-timers at the big dance. Area squad North Union is also making its inaugural trip as a consolidated school.

Newell-Fonda returns after a one-year hiatus, and Greene County is back after its maiden voyage last summer.

Despite all of the heavy traffic, our community is attentive and committed when it comes to state softball. Despite being four-plus decades into the relationship, this event remains our top priority. We do our best to treat our visitors with the utmost respect, while upholding the tournament’s rich tradition along the way. It will always be our pride and joy.

Whether you’re here for one night or the entire week, we’d like to welcome you and thank you for coming. Let the games begin!

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net