Bullpen Tournaments Continues to Innovate & Flourish at Grand Park
Writer / Matt Keating
Photographer / Justin Sicking
The future looks bright for Bullpen Tournaments LLC, the managing/operating partner of Grand Park on the diamond side of the complex.
Blake Hibler, president of Bullpen Tournaments, says the organization has done well over the years because of the excellent team that runs everything.
“We have a phenomenal team,” Hibler says. “Michael Tucker, and Rhett Goodmiller, oversee the operations of our business. Without those two, Bullpen Tournaments does not operate. We have operated the diamond side of the complex since its inception. We have grown from 600 teams in 2014 to more than 5,000 in 2021. We will play more than 11,000 games at Grand Park in 2021. In 2018, we privately invested more than $2M into the park by replacing the natural dirt surface and putting in astroturf.”
Bullpen Tournaments is responsible for scheduling, marketing and operating tournaments, practices, leagues and all other baseball and softball activities held at Grand Park.
Succeeding In Spite of COVID
Hibler says the Bullpen Tournaments team has actually done well during the pandemic to create a brand new (and highly successful) collegiate summer program and bring MLB players in town for an event open to the public. They also grew the Grand Park baseball (and softball) brand to heights they didn’t anticipate.
“Last year was a challenge for everyone,” Hibler says. “Baseball has always been there in the toughest times. Whether it was #BostonStrong and Big Papi, or after 9-11 with President Bush, or baseball after the war. You can always look to moments when baseball was there during tragic times.
“What we did this summer does not compare to any of those moments, but it helped motivate us to make sure baseball was there when people were ready.”
Hibler says Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart organized Minor League Baseball and MLB players coming to the park and playing.
“It was a throwback to ‘Sandlot’ baseball,” Hibler says. “It ended up being the best way to open up Grand Park. It allowed us to show people we could be responsible and enjoy baseball. It is crazy to think that was one of the only times for most of those players to play in front of fans in 2020.”
Hibler says their popular Collegiate Summer League (CSL) was built to fill a void.
“We had a lot of spare time in April and were able to get Pro X, Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Indiana to collaborate to make this league,” he says. “We knew we would be more aggressive than most college leagues in trying to play because they rely on ticket sales to fund their leagues. Without fans, most college leagues would go bankrupt if they played. Our model was different, we charged the players and allowed fans to be free. Fifty percent of the players decided to work at Grand Park to pay off their dues.”
Hibler adds that Randy Lewandowski, the Indianapolis Indians GM, was instrumental in adding legitimacy to their league by allowing them to host an All-Star game at Victory Field.
This year, Hibler and his team are hoping their league can become a staple of the Westfield Community.
“We want the community to be proud of the league and want to come out and support the 200 players coming into town,” he says. “We want those 200 players to want to live here when they settle into their careers. Westfield is the perfect community to not only host one summer team but to be the home to eight summer teams. Games will be played at Grand Park on Monday and Tuesday nights. Along with the game of the week on Thursdays or Fridays, and game night at other locations on Sunday nights.”
Bullpen Tournaments also uses some pretty cutting-edge technology at Grand Park.
“We developed a great relationship with Trackman,” Hibler says. “We have six trackman units on our high school diamonds. Trackman is a radar that tracks more than 25 usable data points including exit velocity, pitch velocity, spin rate and distance traveled. The information then finds its way into MLB offices to help evaluate players.”
Hibler says Bullpen Tournaments is a private business.
“Bullpen Tournaments has a long-term agreement with the City of Westfield,” he says. “We maintain the diamonds, clean the facility, manage tournaments, practice calendars, and everything else diamond sports-related. We work with the schools to provide additional diamond space for baseball and softball. The one item we wish more people understood, is Bullpen Tournaments operates 98% of the tournaments held at Grand Park. Those tournaments are homegrown. We cannot pack up our bags and go run the event somewhere else.”
Hibler says the events were built for Grand Park.
“The Amateur Baseball Championships is the second-largest high school series in the country,” Hibler adds. “It is at Grand Park for as long as Bullpen Tournaments operates at Grand Park. Kokomo (which they are also using) also makes a lot of sense for us, because we are using local high schools already. We were using Zionsville, Sheridan, Westfield, Fishers, Noblesville, Brebeuf, Highland Park in Kokomo and Kokomo Municipal Stadium. It was not feasible to add diamonds at Grand Park. Championship Park in Kokomo provides a better customer experience.”
It also allows them to expand events.
“We have some events with more than 100 teams on a waitlist,” he says. “For the cities and us, it is a win-win. Kokomo will instantly open near capacity, Kokomo will get hundreds of thousands of people that would not have otherwise gone to Kokomo. Westfield will get revenue from our growth and see even more people staying, eating and visiting Westfield. Bullpen will be able to start to accept more teams off the waitlists, too.”
Hibler adds that many youth baseball and softball players in the region have played at Grand Park and have worked through Bullpen, too, even during tough times.
During the pandemic, when so many facilities and programs stopped, Bullpen Tournaments mobilized to give kids a chance to safely compete.
“Many baseball and softball programs are on school property, and when they were shut out last spring, we created programs to get kids active,” Hibler says.
Bullpen Tournaments has also kept things going at a time when they were greatly needed.
“We took a lot of grief from the city council, local community and surrounding leagues last year,” Hibler says. “There was a belief that Bullpen Tournaments was going to replace Westfield Youth Soccer Association (WYSI) and hurt surrounding leagues. That was never the case. Several of our employees have young children. We decided we did not want kids to miss out on their little league experience.”
So, they put together a smaller product and offered it to the parents that felt comfortable allowing their children to play.
“It was a huge success,” Hibler says. “Several kids had their first tee ball game. We have since retired from running a Little League type program and have gone back to being a WYSI partner.”
Bullpen Tournaments has close to 300 seasonal employees.
“We are always looking for help from the community’s youth,” Hibler adds. “We hire a lot of high school and college-age people to help run the summer events. Those positions include gate workers, quad managers, scorekeepers and umpires. High school kids, if they wanted to get into umpiring, could make more than $500 a weekend. We need more high schoolers to want to get into umpiring.”
Bullpen Tournaments also created a summer league and is bringing together top college players to compete.
For more information about Bullpen Tournaments, visit them online at bullpentournaments.com or give them a call at 317-207-6699.