LUMBERTON — When plans for Northeast Park started coming together 10 years ago, advocates hoped the facility could one day hold one of youth baseball’s largest events, the Dixie Youth World Series, and could be a home run for the local economy.
They got that wish earlier this month — along with the unexpected addition of three more Dixie Youth tournaments to be hosted in the park’s Pennington Athletic Complex in 2018.
“This was our first full season of playing baseball in Northeast Park and two years from now we’ll have a World Series,” said Bruce Mullis, treasurer for the LYBA and chairman of the Lumberton Recreation Commission.
Five baseball tournaments will be held over two weeks during the Dixie Youth World Series, bring more than 2,000 players, Dixie Youth Baseball officials and umpires as well as their families to Lumberton’s hotels, restaurants, shops and more.
The influx of visitors could mean millions of dollars added to the Robeson County economy.
Attendees at past World Series tournaments in rural areas have spent about $1.5 million to $2 million on hotels, food, shopping and other necessities, says Dixie Youth Baseball Commissioner Wes Skelton. Tournaments in more metropolitan areas, like Columbia, South Carolina, have brought in as much as $5 million in spending, he said. Gate admissions in Laurel, Mississippi, which hosted three World Series tournaments that wrapped up last week, brought in $110,000, Skelton said.
Economists estimate each dollar spent in a community is spent again there five to seven times, depending on how many of the community’s businesses are chains based elsewhere and how many are locally-owned.
“It just depends on how much of the money spent is kept there in Lumberton and how much leaves,” Skelton said.
Sixty teams from 11 states, including five local host teams, will play in the World Series. The 2018 event will be just the fourth time the Dixie Youth World Series has been held in North Carolina.
“It will be a terrific boom for those two weeks,” said Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis, who was on the City Council when plans for the park got underway. “All the hotels will be full, all the restaurants will be full, people will go shopping and I think the notoriety is a factor. People will say ‘they had a World Series’ — that can’t hurt you.”
Hosting the Dixie Youth World Series has been a goal throughout the long journey of getting Northeast Park established. Construction began in 2006 and was delayed several times before the baseball fields of the Pennington Athletic Complex were ready for play last summer. That only happened after the City Council proceeded with plans when funding for the park was defeated in a referendum.
“We have the hotel rooms, we have the ease of transportation, we have the other things to offer people to come to Lumberton, we just didn’t have the venue to host something like this,” Mullis said.
Mullis and other officials traveled to Laurel, Mississippi, earlier this month as that city hosted the World Series for the third time to pitch Lumberton as its 2018 host. Each year, a national Dixie Youth meeting is held during the World Series tournament.
The 85-room hotel where Mullis stayed was “sold out for two weeks straight,” he said, and restaurants were busy until late at night. People in town for the tournament also rented cars and vans to get to and from games.
In addition to sales tax revenue generated by the influx of visitors, Lumberton will also benefit from a 6 percent occupancy tax on hotel rooms that goes toward promoting the city. Skelton said each Dixie Youth team typically books 12 to 15 hotel rooms, with league officials filling another 100 rooms. Teams stay an average of three and a half days, he said.
The World Series won’t just be an economic boost for Lumberton — it may also be a highlight in the careers of Robeson’s up-and-coming baseball players, who will get to participate as the host city’s representatives.
“It’s taken this long to get to where we are but by hosting this World Series, these kids playing in 2018, they’re going to get to play in a World Series,” Mullis said. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Northeast Park has hosted state-level tournaments before, but a national tournament is a new endeavor that will require some up-fitting at the complex.
Dixie Youth Baseball has requested that during the next two years, the infields at Pennington Athletic Complex be grassed and gates be installed in the dugouts. In addition to the four fields already at Northeast Park, two more will be needed to accommodate the tournament. Those could be built at Northeast Park, or games could be held at existing facilities elsewhere in Robeson County, like Bill Sapp Recreation Center or in Pembroke. Additional parking is also needed.
There is room for more fields and parking at Northeast Park — about 45 acres of the 90-acre park are still undeveloped. Extra parking and a new entrance are already in the plans for the remaining 45 acres.
Putting on the World Series will also take a lot of volunteers and contributions from local businesses — but Mullis and Davis are confident Lumberton residents will step up to the plate.
“It feels like we’ve been on a long journey and we’ve finally turned a corner,” Davis said. “… And I think it will set a precedent for what we’re going to do in that park and in Lumberton in general.”