There’s a reason a T-shirt is given as the prize for hitting a home run at the South Dakota State amateur baseball tournament.
Going deep at Cadwell Park, or anywhere else come state tournament time, is not as easy as it once was. That is, of course, mainly because wood bats have been the mandated hitting tool since 2012, when metal bats were pushed aside. An analysis of the last decade of Class B amateur baseball tournaments -- which include 31 games each year -- shows the tournament averages eight home runs per year. In the three years prior to the 2012 change, there was no tournament with fewer than 25 home runs in those same 31 games.
So the home run era at the South Dakota state amateur baseball tournament is certainly over. But watch the amateur baseball tournament this month at Cadwell Park, and you’re not likely to hear anyone lament the loss of the long ball.
Pitching and defense remain traits held in the highest regard among amateur teams, and one could argue that the pitching in South Dakota’s teams continues to remain as strong as ever. A string of three or four hits becomes much more meaningful, as does the ability to manufacture runs with good contact hitting, walks and wise baserunning.
Home runs have become even more meaningful. A three-run home run is a devastating blow in any game, but especially among amateur players with wood bats.
There’s no question the change had curtailed offense. In 2011 -- which was the final year using metal bats in the state tournament -- there were 460 runs scored in the 31 games of the Class B tournament, or more than seven runs per team per game. In 2012, there were 247 runs scored, a 47.3 percent drop, and fewer than four runs per team per game.
In recent tournaments, run-scoring has bounced back at the Class B state tournament, including teams averaging more than five runs per game in each of the last two tournaments and three of the last four.
And just for fun, we know Cadwell Park has the largest outfield in South Dakota. An examination of the size of the outfield at Cadwell Park -- which measures 340 feet down the lines, 374 feet to the power alleys and 420 feet to straightaway center field -- measured at about 2.2 acres, which is about 12 percent larger than Sioux Falls Stadium (1.93 acres) and about 18 percent larger than Ronken Field at Augustana University (1.81 acres).
The big outfield has likely been helpful with balls dropping in as hits, even if it has taken away some home runs. In the five previous tournaments played with wood bats at Cadwell, an average of 4.87 runs have been scored per team per game. In a small sample size (one year each), Sioux Falls Stadium yielded 4.16 runs per game per team and Ronken Field -- which hosted for the first time in 2018 -- allowed 5.42 runs per game last year.
By no means is that scientific, but it does shed some light on how Cadwell Park has been able to remain a fair offensive park in the wood-bat era, with more room for hits and runs, even if home runs will be a tough task.
All of the data points as a good sign for the health of the amateur state tournament. There’s probably a higher likelihood of a 2-1 game than a 12-11 contest, but both have proven to be fun just the same.
And when there’s a home run at the state tournament, particularly at Cadwell Park, we know there’s even more reason to cheer.
Home runs in Class B state tourney, by year
2018 — 14
*2017 — 12
*2016 — 6
*2015 — 9
*2014 — 2
2013 — 6
*2012 — 7
(change to wood bats for 2012 season)
*2011 — 25
2010 — 49
*2009 — 38
*indicates tournament was at Cadwell Park