FARMINGTON— Game one of the Connie Mack City Tournament today will give baseball fans a matchup worthy of the tournament's championship game.
In a blind draw held Monday night at Ricketts Park, the chips marked Strike Zone and Naa'taanii were drawn for the tournament's first game, scheduled for 5:30 this evening at Ricketts Park.
"We were going to have to play each other, so we might as well start getting after it early and see what we can do," said Dineh Benally, whose Naa'taanii squad fell 3-2 to Strike Zone in the championship game last year. "My assistant, Bobby Bird, he called this. He said, 'We're getting Strike Zone.' And it happened tonight."
This season's blind draw is a change from the traditional format of seeding teams based on their performance during the regular season.
"It's tough. You hope to not be the one to draw somebody like that first round, but unfortunately that's what it is when you have a blind draw," said Brett Alexander, whose select team made up of top players from around Farmington and the Southwest, 4-Corners, drew Bloomfield for its opener. "It's unfortunate that we had to go to a blind draw, but that's what we all agreed upon before the beginning of the season."
While a tough test right out of the gate can boost the confidence of a team and set up a deep tournament run, the opposite can also be true. A select team like 4-Corners could overlook a matchup with a developmental team and be handed a first-round loss.
"Absolutely they're a good ball club," Alexander said of Bloomfield. "Frank (DeHoyos) is doing a good job over there, And the thing about baseball is you can't overlook anybody. You've got to come into the park ready to play with your A-game every day. When you're dealing with high school kids, and high school emotions, you never know what can happen."
During the weekend both Naa'taanii and 4-Corners traveled to Albuquerque for the High Desert Classic and their final test before the City Tournament. While a good showing in Albuquerque could help their team's confidence, both Alexander and Benally knew the more important tournament begins today, and chose to rest the top of their pitching rotations rather than make a deep tournament run.
Alexander said the plan going into the High Desert Classic would be to rely on defense and hitting to win games instead of than overworking a pitcher.
And with a potential opening game against Strike Zone or 4-Corners, Benally chose to shut down the top of his rotation entirely.
"We didn't throw any of our strong arms because we knew this could happen," Benally said.
Now, after months of practice and countless miles logged traveling to weekend tournaments, the bracket is set, and the players are ready to chase the dream of hosting the 2014 Connie Mack World Series.
"Everybody is in town and we're ready to go," Alexander said. "Everyone is chomping at the bit to play. The kids have been around the park today waiting asking 'Who do we play? What time?' They just want to get going."
As for Benally, he's excited for the challenge of the tournament, saying that challenges like playing Strike Zone is one of the things that keeps bringing him back to coaching year after year.
But there is one thing Benally would like changed.
"I wish they would put it at night though and have it as the night game," Benally said with a laugh. "That way we'd hopefully get a few more people out."