SPAMtown Challenge back for 10th year

Eleven years ago, the Austin Greyhounds were playing a tournament in Indiana.

The Minnetonka Millers have won back-to-back SPAMtown Challenge championships. The 10th annual tournament will run Thursday through Sunday at Marcusen Park and Riverland.

Eleven years ago, the Austin Greyhounds were playing a tournament in Indiana.

As for a tournament experience, it was "OK.''

"We got to talking on the way home that we could do a much better job in hosting a tournament like that,'' said John Frein, "and the main thing, we had the facilities to make it happen.''

In a nutshell, that was the birth of the SPAMtown Challenge, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

"We started with eight teams (in 2005), hoping it would grow, and it has,'' said Frein, the co-director of the challenge along with Matt Cano. "We're up to 16 teams, and year after year we have had to turn some teams away.


"Maybe some year we will expand, certainly there is enough interest and I think we could make it work. But for now, 16 teams is a good number. Teams are guaranteed three games, and for the fans, I'm not afraid to say that this is one of the premier semi-pro tournaments around.''

The 2006 SPAMtown had a 12-team tournament and the current 16-team format was introduced in 2007.

"Whatever team wins, it is earned,'' Frein said. "Nobody is going to slide through. It's a tough grind.''

The Minnetonka Millers have to be considered as tournament favorite.

The Millers are three-time SPAMtown winners, including back-to-back titles the past two years along with one won in 2007. They first started to come to Austin in 2007 and have made the final four in six of the seven tournaments.

This year the Millers own an 18-2 record. Last weekend, they defeated the Austin Greyhounds, 7-4.

Minnesota teams have won the tournament six times and outstate teams have won it three.

The Rochester Royals won the initial tournament in 2006. Sparta, Wis., won in 2006, Cold Spring in 2008, the Chicago Wildcats in 2009, Onalaska, Wis., in 2010 and Dundas in 2011.


"We've had teams from as far away as New York,'' said Frein. "For some teams, this is the highlight of their season and some value it like a state tournament.

"There are no 'meaningless' or consolation games. Every game is important.''

The Mankato Mets are the only first-time entrant.

The Blue Sox open at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against Westmont, Ill., and the Greyhounds take on Hayfield at 7:30 p.m. Both games are at Marcusen Park.

The 16 teams are divided into four pools, with the winners of each advancing to Sunday's semifinals and championship, at Marcusen Park.

The 'Hounds have yet to win their own tournament. They advanced to the championship game a year ago before falling to Minnetonka.

"We're hoping to finish what was left on the table in last year's tournament,'' said Frein.

The Greyhounds are 5-5 and the Austin BlueSox 4-3.


Marcusen Park has been hit hard by the recent heavy rain, but Frein said the field should be in top-notch shape by Thursday.

"We would have been pretty nervous a few years ago before we did the field improvements,'' said Frein. "We've been through it before, so we know what to do. And we did a lot of things to help with the drainage.

"A crew of volunteers have been working hard to make it happen and when the games start, I don't think you will be able to tell there had been any rain at all.''

• Saturday night is the Marcusen Block Party, featuring the rock band "Tracey Blake Project.''

A Saturday ticket is $10, good for all games and the concert. A tournament VIP pass good for all games and concert is $17.

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