The phrase "field of dreams" conjures up images of freshly-cut grass, a batter's box neatly defined by white lines in the dust around home plate, and a gentle breeze that coaxes a neatly-hit baseball to travel just a bit farther.
USD's DakotaDome, with its steel roof, bright, electric lighting and artificial turf, offers none of those trappings. And yet, it served as the perfect venue for the very first DakotaDome Youth Baseball Classic.
Young baseball enthusiasts, with their parents, family and friends in the stands of the DakotaDome, got to break in their gloves that have been idle all winter long, and experience that joyous feeling when the bat they've just swung connects with a baseball for a hit.
All thanks to a novel concept. Indoor baseball. On the windswept plains of South Dakota.
The 2010 DakotaDome Youth Baseball Classic, held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 30-May 2, was made possible by the Vermillion Youth Baseball Association.
"We knew that having a tournament was something that we wanted to do here in Vermillion," said Steve Miller, president of the association. "We know from other towns that it's a great fundraiser. It's also a great experience for our local kids, and it's a great experience for our community to bring in out-of-town folks for this."
Teams from Yankton, Sioux Falls, Artesian-Letcher, Brandon Valley, Madison, Beresford, Irene-Centerville, Mitchell, Bon Homme County, and Norfolk, NE joined Vermillion's youth teams.
This event wasn't designed as a tournament. Miller said a better description of its goals would be spring training.
"We didn't give out trophies, or keep standings. There was no ultimate winner," he said. "We wanted to provide an opportunity for youth to come early to Vermillion, no matter what the weather is, before the season, and get in some competitive games more to see where your team is at the beginning of the season."
The baseball classic's rules were designed so that every member of each team could get the maximum amount of playing time possible. "Everybody on each team got a chance to play," he said. "We had been preparing for it for awhile, and the university has been very cooperative in working with us in getting all of that set up."
The idea for indoor baseball at the DakotaDome was brought up at one of the association's meetings shortly after a board member had played in a softball tournament in the Dome.
"He said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could do something in the Dome?' That opened up the possibility of us doing something early in the season – even before the season started," Miller said, "because we don't have to worry about weather when we're inside."
The local youth baseball association began planning this event approximately a year ago, a process that included communicating with university officials and finding a free weekend in the DakotaDome's busy schedule.
"In hindsight, it was amazingly successful," Miller said Wednesday. "We had 22 teams play from around the area. Lots of people came down for the weekend to Vermillion, so it was good for not just us, but also for local businesses.
"We're feeling very good about the outcome of this," he said. "It gave our boys a chance to play some teams from around the area, and it raised some money for Vermillion youth baseball."
The planning of the baseball match-ups, the contacting of the teams, and the outfitting of the Dome's football field for baseball was no easy task. It was accomplished thanks to the legwork of Jim Brady, who served as chairman of the committee that planned the event, and Ryan Baedke of the Vermillion Parks and Recreation Department.
"Those two guys worked really, really hard to make this successful," Miller said.