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College baseball championship kicks off in Clearwater

Mark Parker



The 2024 American Baseball Championship began Tuesday morning with a matchup between Wichita State University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB). Photos provided.

The 2024 American Baseball Championship is back in Clearwater, much to the delight of American Athletic Conference (AAC) officials and tourism stakeholders.

The five-day tournament began at 9 a.m. Tuesday and features the nation’s ninth-ranked team in college baseball. It concludes Sunday, May 26, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) Championship.

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater expects the event to generate over 3,200 overnight stays and $1.8 million in direct spending. Tom Fenstermaker, communications director for the AAC, said hosting a prominent tournament throughout Memorial Day weekend benefits everyone involved.

“It really helps us to have a place that has great sights and great amenities around the area,” Fenstermaker said. “The fans know that if their team is pretty good, they’re going to be coming here at the end of the year. And they know they’re going to have a good time.”

ESPN + is providing live coverage of the championship’s first five days. The eight top-ranked teams in the AAC face off in a double-elimination format.

ESPNEWS will broadcast the winner-take-all finale live at noon Sunday. While the gameday action occurs at BayCare Ballpark, the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring home, the sports network will also showcase the surrounding area to a national audience.

In addition, indirect spending will significantly increase the event’s economic impact. That occurs when vendors and businesses reinvest event revenues into the local economy.

For example, the Jan. 27 Royal Rumble in St. Petersburg generated $28.34 million in direct spending but provided a $47.05 million economic impact. Pinellas County coffers will also receive 6% of all lodging costs, which officials dedicate to destination marketing and capital projects that increase visitation.

Fenstermaker said each of the eight teams travels with about 45 players, coaches and support staffers. They typically arrive in Clearwater early Monday and have at least one day off to recoup from games and enjoy the area.

“It’s a great recruiting tool,” Fenstermaker said. “If you make the conference tournament, you’re going to be spending up to a week on the beach. It definitely helps, especially when the forecast looks like it does this week.”

The Philadelphia Phillies conduct spring training at BayCare Ballpark, also home to the Clearwater Threshers minor league affiliate.

The championship features the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Wichita State University, Rice University, the University of East Carolina, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Texas-San Antonio, Florida Atlantic University and Tulane University. The local AAC school will not make an appearance.

The University of South Florida failed to secure a tournament bid for the second time since 2019. USF announced Monday evening that it dismissed baseball coach Billy Mohl.

Mohl’s career highlight began in the 2021 AAC tournament. USF won four games in six days to secure the championship, then won three out of four matchups in the NCAA’s Gainesville Regional to make the team’s first Super Regional. Two subsequent losses to Texas kept them out of the College World Series.

East Carolina is the 2024 tournament’s big draw after securing its fifth consecutive regular season title. The school lost to Tulane in the 2023 American Baseball Championship final.

However, East Carolina now boasts a top-10 national ranking and the AAC’s Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Pitcher of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. “People can see some future major leaguers here this week,” Fenstermaker said.

“Alec Bohm from the Phillies, he probably played here in spring training,” he added. “And then with Tampa Bay (Rays) is Shane McClanahan, who played for South Florida.”

Fenstermaker called BayCare Ballpark’s facilities “top-notch.” The stadium is also home to the Clearwater Threshers minor league team.

Fenstermaker credited local hotels and restaurants for welcoming and accommodating the event. “It’s really a great place to spend a week,” he said. 

For scheduling and ticketing information, visit the website here.





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