Fourteen years ago, the Buckeye Elite Showcase Tournament began with 32 baseball teams in one division. Today, the four-day event has become one of most popular youth tournaments in the Midwest.
This year's tournament, which runs July 12-15 with games being played at 74 venues throughout central Ohio, consists of 308 teams representing 10 states and Canada. A total of 758 games will be played.
Jeff Dutiel, who shares tournament director duties with Mark Gessner, said the event grew to 50 teams in its second year and 100 in the third.
"We decided to do it a second year and it just exploded," said Dutiel, who also serves as chief financial officer for the tournament and added that the event benefits area restaurants and hotels economically. "There will be future pro players coming to this tournament. They will be here. They will be playing in the big leagues in the next four years."
The Buckeye Elite Showcase is divided into four divisions: 14-and-under, 15U, 16U and 18U. There are 52 teams in the 14U division, 72 in 15U, 96 in 16U and 88 in 18U. According to Dutiel, there are 81 teams on a waiting list.
Each team is guaranteed three games in pool play and at least one game in championship play. Following pool play, teams will be divided into platinum, gold, silver and bronze brackets, with champions determined in each division. Platinum is considered the top bracket.
Among the area high schools that will play host to games are Big Walnut, Briggs, Canal Winchester, Central Crossing, Delaware, DeSales, Dublin Coffman, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Gahanna, Grandview, Grove City, Grove City Christian, Hamilton Township, Hartley, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Darby, Hilliard Davidson, Marysville, New Albany, Olentangy, Olentangy Liberty, Olentangy Orange, Pickerington Central, Pickerington North, Ready, Reynoldsburg, St. Charles, Thomas Worthington, Upper Arlington, Watterson, Westerville Central, Westerville North, Westerville South, Westland, Whetstone, Whitehall, Worthington Christian and Worthington Kilbourne.
Seven area colleges -- Capital, Denison, Mount Vernon Nazarene, Ohio Dominican, Ohio State, Ohio Wesleyan and Otterbein -- will play host to games, as will Huntington Park. Games also will be played at venues in Ashley, Ashville, Galena, Newark, Prospect and Zanesville.
The event kicks off Wednesday, July 11, with a skills showcase at Liberty. Players who were nominated by their coaches will have the opportunity to display their skills in front of numerous college coaches and professional scouts. As of June 27, 120 players were registered to participate.
Jerome coach Chris Huesman, who formerly guided an Ohio Elite team in the Buckeye Elite Showcase, always looks forward to the event.
"What I'm impressed with is a lot of summer tournaments, it's bad baseball, it's not too competitive," said Huesman, who will maintain two fields in this year's event. "This tournament seems to be highly competitive. You have teams from states all over the place and even Canada. It's one the biggest tournaments in Columbus, along with Worthington Wood Bat."
Camron Hubble, a rising senior at Westerville Central, will be playing in the Buckeye Elite Showcase for the fourth time.
"It's a really big tournament," said Hubble, a catcher, pitcher and outfielder for the Columbus Cobras 17U team. "It's good to get a lot of teams from all over the place. ... It's good competition. It prepares me for the high school season. We have to go into the tournament and try to beat good teams."
Bo Jackson's Elite Sports, which opened in 2016 in Hilliard, has entered several teams in the tournament.
"For central Ohio, it's long been the big tournament of the summer, with teams coming in from surrounding states and as far as away as Canada," said Chris Valentine, director of baseball development for Bo Jackson's Elite Sports. "It's always neat to see central Ohio become a hub of club or travel baseball (this) time of the year."