ELKINS - Since 1989, American Legion baseball teams from around the eastern part of the nation have converged in June for the Pizza Hut Hillbilly Hardball
This year's 31-team field features representatives from West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The Inter-Mountain file photo
Players from Pickerington (Ohio) Post 283 and Cumberland (Md.) Post 13 meet after a past Pizza Hut Hillbilly Hardball Classic game. Both teams are once again among the field when the annual American Legion baseball summer ritual begins today at area fields.
"We try to bring in as many out-of-state teams as possible," Elkins Post 29 manager and Classic director Chris George said. "It's got to the point where teams are calling me wanting in the tournament, instead of the other way around."
George said the Mountain State squads also hold their own in the four days of competition.
"There's so many great teams in the state," he said. "We have defending state champion South Charleston for example. We attract nearly every team in the state because they want to come and compete against some good competition."
Each team is placed in one of five divisions in a pool-play format, which will begin today. The top six teams advance to Sunday's championship round.
Games are played at seven different locations - Robin Harvey Memorial Field, Elkins High School/Post 29 Field and Davis &?Elkins College in Elkins, Tygarts Valley High School in Mill Creek, Philip Barbour High School in Philippi, Buckhannon-Upshur High School in Tennerton and Bridgeport High School.
"This is a big thing locally," George said. "Other than the Forest Festival, I think it's one of the most important events that takes place in our area in terms of visitors to the area and such."
Squads entered from West Virginia include Elkins, Buckhannon, Bridgeport, Jefferson, Morgantown, Romney, Weirton, Charleston Power, Fairmont, Preston County, South Charleston, Potomac Valley, Moundsville, Berkeley County, Summersville, Beckley, Wheeling and Clarksburg.
Maryland teams are Severna Park, Grantsville, St. Mary's and Cumberland.
Mifflin County, Beech Creek, Bellefonte and French Creek Valley hail from Pennsylvania, while Licking County, Johnstown, Pickerington and Prospect will represent Ohio.
Seminole (Fla.) is a newcomer to the Classic. The St. Petersburg-based squad is coached by former Greenbrier East standout Seth McClung, who was a two-time All-American during his prep playing days.
He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
McClung played in 177 Major League games, pitching 430.1 innings, including an appearance for the Brewers in the 1998 NLDS,
No champion was crowned in 2013 due to the weather. Columbia (Md.) took the 2012 title.
"I think there's a number of teams that can win the (Classic)," George said. "There's so many talented teams competing, and I'm excited to get the games going.
"The weather is always a concern. We're just hoping it stays away from us, so we can get in every game through Sunday."
The Classic began play in 1989 as the Rick Phillips Memorial Tournament.
Phillips was a former Elkins Post 29 coach and player who died unexpectedly after suffering an allergic reaction to a bee sting.