A Brand New Ballgame!
How Shelby-Cleveland County came to be the official home of the American Legion World Series
Shelby fielded its first American Legion Baseball team in 1931 and the team claimed its first regional title in 1938. There are six state championships and the 1945 national championship to the team’s credit. In 2002, American Legion Baseball in Shelby-Cleveland County took on a broader perspective. Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium, home to the Post 82 team and the Golden Lions of Shelby High School, became the venue for American Legion Baseball’s Southeastern Regional, the winner of which would contend for the national championship.
The volunteer committee that formed to coordinate the regional evolved into the committee that engineered the N.C. State Tournament here in 2004, then morphed into the committee responsible for the Southeastern Regional AND the American Legion World Series (ALWS) in 2008 and solidified into the committee that made the bid for Shelby-Cleveland County to become the permanent home of the ALWS in 2010. Many of the names on the 2002 committee are still on the roster of the Executive Committee of Cleveland County ALWS Baseball and the list of 500-600 volunteers who make the ALWS a resounding success!
Shortly after Shelby-Cleveland County hosted the 2008 Southeastern Regional Tournament and the 2008 American Legion World Series, the National Office of The American Legion announced that it was seeking a permanent location for the ALWS, effective with the 2011 Series. The Shelby-Cleveland County supporters felt they had a chance since the 2008 ALWS drew nearly 38,000 fans, the second highest attendance in ALWS history.
After months of preparing a printed presentation that answered a requisite set of questions, the Shelby-Cleveland County contingent was invited to American Legion headquarters in Indianapolis to make its official bid. Two busloads of passionate supporters made the trek and entered the meeting room dressed in identical orange T-shirts. The group was rewarded for its hard work and the long bus ride when notified en route home that Shelby-Cleveland County had won the bid for four years of hosting the ALWS!
The first year, 2011, fans purchased more than 86,000 tickets; in 2012, the number of tickets sold soared to almost 102,000; and in 2013, fans bought more than 104,000 tickets. In 2014 ticket sales increased to 110,000; in 2015 that number grew to 117,000-plus; in 2016 ticket sales reached approximately 120,000; and in 2017 fans purchased 119,200 tickets. Ticket sales for 2018 set a new record at 128,157!
Ticket sales and improvements to Veterans Field and Keeter Stadium after the first two years convinced the National Office of The American Legion to extend the original four-year contract to 2019, and precluding any major problems, extending the contract for two consecutive five-year terms after 2019, effectively granting Shelby-Cleveland County official site status until 2029.
That momentous vote of confidence provided the impetus for the region to donate $2.8 million for further improvements to Keeter Stadium and the continued pursuit of national performing artists for ALWS-related events. Currently ESPN3 broadcasts Games 1-6 with the final nine games airing live on ESPNU, thereby increasing exposure for the tournament. The Executive Committee of the ALWS is working to increase the number of games on ESPNU.
During contract negotiations in October 2018, the National Office of The American Legion altered the language of the contract with the Shelby organization to state that the contract would continue in perpetuity, releasing the Shelby organization from renegotiating periodically. The new language requires that either party must give a two-year notice if requesting a release from the contract.
The ALWS in Shelby-Cleveland County is truly a BRAND NEW BALLGAME!