SWAC baseball tournament moves to Fort Worth

The vagabond Southwestern Athletic Conference baseball tournament is on the move once again.

Nearly two weekends into the conference schedule, the SWAC office announced Friday that Fort Worth, Texas, will serve as the host of the conference’s baseball tournament this year.

SWAC baseball joins basketball in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for its postseason.

The SWAC basketball tournament gets under way next week in Garland, Texas, the Dallas suburb where the event was first held in 2011 and is returning for a third season.

The conference baseball tournament is set for May 15-19 at LaGrave Field, home of the Fort Worth Cats of the United Baseball League.

“They came into the equation late in the process,” SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp said of Fort Worth. “We made contact with a couple of venues, but some of them had baseball teams that were home the weekend of our tournament, and some were in a situation where their facility had already been booked.”

Fort Worth becomes the seventh city to host the SWAC baseball tournament over the past 14 seasons. LaGrave Field will be the ninth venue over that same stretch.

Southern coach Roger Cador said he was under the impression the event would happen at Lee-Hines Field this spring for the second year in a row and the fourth year out of the last six.

During a conference call in December with SWAC baseball coaches, Cador said Sharp informed the group that the tournament would return to Southern.

“I am disappointed that (Sharp) changed his mind and we won’t have the chance to host, but he’s the commissioner and I’m going to support him,” Cador said. “A man has a right to change his mind.”

Sharp said he did mention Southern as a possible destination that day, but that he was still in the process of trying to find a neutral site for the tournament.

Southern’s infield and drainage system recently underwent $150,000 in upgrades.

“There were a number of people who just wanted to have a neutral site,” Sharp said, referring to conversations with coaches and administrators from member schools. “The No. 1 thing was the overall student-athlete experience. No. 2 was neutral site.”

Southern won only one of the three SWAC tournaments played at Lee-Hines Field since 2008, despite entering as the No. 1 seed from the West Division all three times.

Other venues to host the event in the past decade include Fair Grounds Field in Shreveport; Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, Miss.; Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.; Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala.; and Baseball USA in Houston.

LaGrave Field opened in 1926 and has seen a Who’s Who of baseball immortals — Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams, to name a few — step into its batter’s boxes.

But like Garland for basketball, Fort Worth is a hike from most SWAC campuses.

Prairie View at 220 miles and Texas Southern at 260 would have the shortest trip to this year’s tournament. Alabama A&M would travel 700 miles if it qualifies.

Cador said bringing the tournament back to Lee-Hines Field would have made more sense from a business perspective.

“You increase every (school’s) budget to get there, and you probably don’t get the same support at the gate,” he said.

Sharp said Dallas-Fort Worth has a “huge contingency of SWAC alumni” and that the area has been supportive of the conference’s basketball tournament.

Asked if Fort Worth would be considered as the baseball tournament’s permanent home, Sharp said: “I think it’s always a possibility. You’d hate to go anywhere thinking it was a one-year deal.”