In a day of steroids, greedy millionaire players and even greedier billionaire owners, the great American pastime -- the sport of baseball -- often gets a bad rap.
Thank goodness for the Valmeyer Mid-Summer Classic where fans from small and large towns throughout the metro-east and St. Louis area meet once a year to experience baseball the way it was meant to be and watch players who compete for the love of the game.
Now in its 42nd year, The Valmeyer Mid-Summer Classic begins at 9 a.m. today when defending champion Millstadt takes on the St. Louis Printers in the first of four first-round games at beautiful Borsch Memorial Park.
And again, the eight-team tournament is more than just a baseball event as fans and players celebrate the Fourth of July holiday.
"Its more then just a baseball tournament where you'll see some of the best amateur baseball around. Its an event," longtime Valmeyer manager Dennis Pieper said. "We're going to have fireworks on the Fourth of July, there will a sand volleyball tournament and tractor pull along with the annual holiday parade on Sunday. We've also got entertainment under the pavilion on Friday and Saturday, not to mention all the great food and lots of ice cold beverages.
"We hope people come out and enjoy themselves. This is the 42nd annual tournament and I've been at them all. It's great baseball and a lot of fun.''
Action continues at 11:30 a.m. when Cape Girardeau (Mo.) takes on Bellevllle. In the other bracket, the St. Louis Spikes will take on Fairview Heights at 2 p.m. followed by the game between longtime rivals Waterloo and Valmeyer at 4:30 p.m.
Semifinals in both losers and winners brackets are set for Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. The tournament concludes on Sunday with the fifth place, third place and title games. The championship game is set for 3:30 p.m.
Millstadt, which broke a 33-year-old victory drought a year ago when it defeated Fairview Heights 8-4 in the title game, is the top seed. Managed by Norm Toenjes, Millstadt features a young team which leads the Mon-Clair League's Monroe Division with a 15-3 record.
Millstadt also features a balanced hitting attack with four of the top 12 hitters in the league. Brian Lupa and Jared Mueth lead the squad with .452 averages while Rob Beatty (.446) and Tyler Muren (.419) are also having great seasons with the bat.
Former Althoff and current McKendree University ace Sam Lidisky leads the Millstadt pitching staff with a perfect 7-0 record.
But Millstadt will be pushed.
"Is there a favorite? I think its Millstadt. They've got a good group of young kids and they're having a great year,'' Pieper said. "But you've got Fairview Heights, the (St. Louis) Spikes, Waterloo, Belleville and Valmeyer. Cape (Girardeau) is also a threat, They've got a good squad and nobody up here really knows a lot about them because we don't play.''
Fairview Heights has a player in Sam Wahlig who is tied with Dan Munoz of Belleville for the league lead in hitting with a .500 mark. Teammate Rob Blumberg (.417) has also been solid for Fairview Heights.
Fairview Heights also has three of the top pitchers -- Stephen Siegel, Brady Nowak and Mike McDonough -- in the tournament.
Veteran Mark Tampow of Belleville (.452) is also among the league leaders in hitting.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org