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Travel Softball Invades Colorado For July 4th

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(Courtesy of TC Fastpitch)

For one week in July, thousands of softball players arrive in the greater Denver area in hopes of catching the eyes of one of hundreds of college coaches.

There are 500-plus teams competing in the 16- and 18-and-under divisions of the Colorado Fireworks tournament, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. There are 300-plus teams competing in the 12- and 14-and-under divisions.

Triple Crown took over the tournament about 10 years ago and the organization's Director of Fastpitch, Elliott Finkelstein, spoke to Softball America about this week, which also includes the 20-year-old Triple Crown Sparkler tournament that hosts another 200-plus teams.

“Magic,” Finkelstein laughed as he described how it all comes together. “If we try to look at it all at once, we would all freak out and go home. The first thing we try to be good at is segmentation, which is the most difficult (thing). Who should be playing together to give them the best experience?”

Teams are placed in brackets according to Triple Crown rankings, which are 80 percent performance-based and 20 percent research-based.

“People have their opinions about our rankings,” Finkelstein said. “Everyone is trying to rank stuff. For us, it's 80–20, and that 20 is what the rankings don’t tell us. We’ll use sources like Softball America, Flo and Extra Innings. We try to use as much of that information (as possible). Plus, we have a lot of contacts so we’ll talk to the coaches that we know about the teams in their market. Who’s good? Who do you play that scares you? Who is it that we don’t know anything about? We uncover a lot of teams that nobody has ever heard of until we put them in the power pool because somebody said we need to put them there.”

The segmentation of the tournaments begins with the power pools, which, according to Finkelstein, is the best and worst thing they ever did.

“The competition is great, the college coaches are everywhere and they play on the prime fields,” he said.

It gets difficult when they have to call the next bunch of teams and tell them that they didn’t make the power-pool cut, and instead, they are in the next group.

“People don’t want to hear that, but we have the tough conversations with the clubs and tell them how they can earn their stripes by playing better,” Finkelstein said.

Sparkler’s Kennedy Division is played at the Schaefer Complex in Denver.

“We put college coaches at the JUCO (junior college), NAIA and lower-level programs over there,” Finkelstein explained about the Kennedy Division. “The coaches love it because those teams are full of kids that can play, but won’t make a higher-level college roster.”

The teams playing in the supplemental pools are ranked somewhere between the power pools and the teams in the Sparkler. Their placement is determined by how they do in pool play.

“How do I know if the Sea Buzzards are any good or not, or the Batbusters No. 394?” Finkelstein asked with a hint of sarcasm. “We don’t, so we let the pool play decide. The first-place teams move into the upper bracket, the second place (teams) move into their bracket and so we let the pool play decide bracket play.”

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By arranging bracket play this way, the teams compete for the championship of their bracket against 60 teams that look similar to them. Ultimately, it creates a level playing field.

“I think most teams, most coaches think that’s a really good way (to do it),” he said. “Nobody wants to get their butt kicked six times in a row and go home. Nobody wants to run-rule six times in a row either. I know we don’t. We like good, competitive games.”

Triple Crown also works in conjunction with the Boulder Independence Day Tournament. Despite being competitors, the two companies work together to make sure they host the same weekend.

The IDT brings another 200-plus teams to Colorado.

“We coordinate with Dan (Burns),” Finkelstein said about the competing tournament. “(As a) matter of fact, he had his dates wrong originally and I had to call him to tell him he was going a week early. We have a good, friendly relationship. We’re competitors, but we’re in the same market and we get along great. There’s no animosity between us. There’s bragging rights between who has the better bracket, which is a great debate.”

The tournaments will run through the July 4th holiday. Only time will tell the amount of undiscovered talent that will emerge in Colorado this year.