Tim Brassfield deflects adversity like a hockey goaltender.
Tornado fallout. Rain delays. Late-night games.
Next up: tournament poachers.
And Brassfield might need his mask for this.
Yep, it's that time again, with Brassfield and his All Sports Association in the spot of defending their turf, with bids already in for future Big 12 Baseball Tournament host rights and hopeful suitors lined up to challenge Oklahoma City's stronghold on the event.
While conference officials once labeled this “The Home of the Big 12 Baseball Tournament,” lately, the tone has changed.
The property is for sale.
“We've got one more year in Oklahoma City and it's open to bid to determine where it is after that,” said Big 12 associate commissioner Bob Burda. “There are other cities interested.
“And Oklahoma City is obviously a strong option, as a longtime anchor for the tournament and a long history of doing it right.”
Brassfield, executive director of the hosting All Sports Association, has fended off attacks before, mostly successfully.
Oklahoma City has hosted the tournament 15 times in a 17-year period, and 38 times in 40 years dating back to the old Big Eight days. Those other two years, in 2002 and 2004, it was played at The Ballpark in Arlington, an experience that almost everyone involved considered a disappointment, prompting a return to Oklahoma City.
Still, Brassfield takes nothing for granted.
“Any time you have competition, you need to consider it as a real threat,” Brassfield said. “There are people who see what this is, which is a great event. And they value it.
“So do we.”
This, by all accounts, is a real threat.
Other cities reportedly in play: up the turnpike in Tulsa, and south of the Red River, in Round Rock and Frisco, Texas. Sources, however, indicate that Frisco can be scratched, since Mandalay Baseball Properties, which owns the RedHawks, also owns the franchise there and is said to favor the tournament remaining in Oklahoma City.
For the record, most of the league's coaches favor the tournament remaining.
“I love Oklahoma City,” said Kansas coach Ritch Price. “I think the RedHawks treat us first class. It's a gorgeous ballpark, the setting's fabulous. The players can walk to restaurants and the hotel, walk to the ballpark.”
Texas Tech's Tim Tadlock: “I think Oklahoma City is a great venue and we'd love to keep it here. The surface is a great surface to play on. It's a great situation because of hotels. It usually gets buzzing down here pretty good in the evenings. The night games are a lot of fun; they're all a lot of fun.”
Coaches are all but unanimous in detailing what's right about Oklahoma City as host.
The Bricktown setup is unparalleled in this region, with restaurants and other sources of entertainment — as well as Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark — all in walking distance of the downtown team hotels. For every team except West Virginia, Oklahoma City is a six- or seven-hour bus ride.
The Brick is a premium facility. And the support personnel surrounding the tournament is well-versed and experienced in hospitality.
So, what's the downside?
Blame it on the Thunder or Oklahoma State's recent-year struggles or 9 a.m. start times, but attendance for the tournament is lacking.
“I think Oklahoma City's a great location,” said Baylor coach Steve Smith, “and I think the people here — I'm talking about the All Sports Association — they're awesome. I don't think when you're talking about potentially moving or going to a different spot, it should never, from my perspective, ever be interpreted as dissatisfaction with that group of people. That would not be the right thing.
“I think that there may be geographic areas in the league that would support it because it'd be new to them.”
The tournament has played to scattered crowds this week, although there have been extenuating circumstances, with a cloud hanging over the city — and beyond — because of the tornadoes that struck the state.
“We'd love to keep it here, especially under the circumstances this year,” Tadlock said. “It would be really unwise to say we should move it.”
There are reasons for hope of a fan resurgence. OSU, under Josh Holliday, appears headed for a resurgence. With Kansas and Kansas State gaining traction in the league, their fan bases formerly foreign to following baseball could climb aboard the bandwagon. And Texas being Texas wouldn't hurt.
Smith, who has coached in the Big 12 since its inaugural season, is the one dissenting public voice. Yet he's not alone in at least considering other options.
It's been talked about in the league coaches meetings.
“When it first started 15, 16, 17 years ago, it drew huge here,” Smith said. “Back then, when some guys talked about moving it around, I wasn't sure then that there were facilities large enough to handle it. Frisco would've never held the crowds that we had here. That's changed.
“I don't know why, but that has changed. So maybe it's time to look at other options and really think outside the box a little bit about what we should do.”
The three other cities apparently in play all have modern, quality minor league facilities similar to The Brick. And they have other plusses.
But none has anything approaching Bricktown's conveniences and comforts.
And coaches fear that Round Rock, an Austin suburb, would become a Longhorns homecoming.
“If we go to Round Rock, I'm afraid that other teams are going to have a hard time getting people there and we end up playing in front of what we do in Bedlam when we got to Tulsa, which is at least a 7-3 ratio of OSU fans,” said Sooners coach Sunny Golloway. “That's what you're going to play against in Round Rock.
“You're going to have orange and it's not going to be OSU orange. And then all the sudden, people are going to say no to that.”
Still, the threat appears real.
And Brassfield has braced for whatever comes. And with an announcement on the future sites due as soon as the end of the month, he said he's confident his group has done its part.
“I think any time you rest and step back and think you've arrived and you own something is when you stop doing the job,” Brassfield said. “If we had a 20-year contract, I'd like to think that we would still pursue excellence and we'd try to do everything we can to make sure we serve the conference and serve the coaches and athletes that establishes us as a cut above.
“We haven't rested. And I don't think we're going to.”