? Columbus, Rome will be neutral site hosts

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Historic Golden Park in Columbus, left, and State Mutual Stadium in Rome will be the Georgia High School Association's two neutral site locations when the state begins holding its baseball championships at neutral sites in 2017. (Special Photos)


By Tim Morse

Georgia Dugout Preview


Columbus and Rome will be the host cities when the Georgia High School Association moves its state baseball finals to neutral sites beginning in 2017, the Georgia Dugout Preview Magazine learned Monday.

Golden Park in Columbus as well as State Mutual Stadium will serve as host sites, according to GHSA Associate Director Ernie Yabrough who chairs the Baseball Committee.

?In our first year moving forward, we are going with two different sites using both minor league ball parks,? Yarbrough said. ?One concept that Dr. Gary Phillips and I hold is that the teams advancing will determine who will play where based on geography.?

State Mutual Stadium is home to the Rome Braves, the Atlanta Braves? Class A affiliate and can seat 5,105. Golden Park was the former home of the Columbus Catfish, a Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. However, Golden Park hasn?t fielded a minor league team since the Catfish moved after the 2006 season. The stadim capacity is 5,000.

"The Columbus Sports Council is honored to be selected as a host site for the 2017 GHSA State Baseball Championships," said Columbus Sports Council Interim Director Merri C. Sherman. "We look forward to welcoming the teams and fans to our beautiful city."

Baseball and lacrosse are the only two sports that don?t hold their state championships at neutral sites. That will change in 2017. The GHSA is adding a new classification ? Class 7A ? which will give the state eight state championships after the public and private school split in Class A. Four championship series will be played at each site.

?I think it is something positive for the sport,? said Georgia Dugout Club Executive Secretary Harvey Cochran. ?Any time we can do something to increase exposure for the sport, I believe it benefits everybody. I really believe the kids will think (playing in a minor league park) will be something special.?

The format will be one game per classification per day at each site. The second game of the series will be played the following day with Game 3?s, if needed, on the third day.

The championships are scheduled for May 25-27, 2017.

The change to neutral sites has been met with resistance from many baseball coaches. However, Yarbrough noted that with the popularity of the sport, attendance at championships outgrew the size of most high school facilities.

?With high school championships on campus, the baseball fields are not adequate enough in regards to spectators, concessions and a number of other things,? he said. ?The facilities are just not big enough. We?ve had championships where 100 to 200 people couldn?t get in, and in some places, they some were five-deep along the fences. In those cases, safety was becoming an issue in regards to the spectators.

?A lot of administrators we heard from sometimes were overwhelmed at the amount of work in order to put these championships on. We believe it?s going to be a better experience for the kids as far as getting to play in a minor league park as well as for the administrators. We believe it will be a win-win experience for everyone. But as you know, anytime you have change, people are going to bow-up about it.?

Yarbrough pointed out that qualifying teams won?t automatically know their destination.

?For example, if you have a team from Cobb County in 7A playing a team from Gwinnett County, then they will play their championship in Rome,? Yarbrough said. ?Then if you have teams from Middle Georgia in say Class 5A playing a team from South Georgia, then they will go to Columbus.?

The new format will have the high school baseball season ending on Memorial Day weekend next year, a week earlier than the traditional format. During the past two years, Class A championships have concluded a week earlier than the remaining classes.

One side note is that baseball championships sometimes conflict with graduations. Yarbrough said the calendar year would be set in advance so school systems could work to avoid conflicts.

?You get into April and May and you have things like proms and graduations,? he said. ?Those things are very important, but hopefully setting the dates early will help schools schedule those things around the championships.?

Yarbrough said ticket prices haven?t been determined but that participating schools would split gate profits evenly.