Top-notch competition has always been at the heart of the success of the Boulder National Invitational baseball tournament hosted by Diamond Baseball of Boulder.
While last year's tournament featured a team from Canada for the first time, the 10th edition of the Boulder NIT has a flock of new 19U teams that have proven to be some of the best in the region.
It may not be bigger than ever, but the five-day event played out at five different Boulder County fields may end up being as competitive as ever.
"I'm pretty sure Steve Disbrow started this thing, and I love it. (Tournament director) Chris Bukowski has always done a great job with it, and really I just think we're lucky to have such great teams come into town and get the chance to play them," said Boulder Legion A coach Tim Kupfner, whose team has three regional opponents in its pool. "I can say that we are going to try and give it our best shot to win, and I'm happy that we're playing some good competition to tell us where we are at right now."
A couple of the most well-known American Legion teams joining the fray this year are the Billings Royals and Rapid City Post 320. The Royals were Montana's state runner-up team last summer, while Rapid City baseball within the American Legion has always been talked about as well-run and successful.
"There was a little bit more of a turnover because we're running a bit closer to July 4 which is a weekend a lot of teams are already traveling for," Bukowski said, adding some teams may be from returning organizations just playing under different names. "There's no doubt (Billings and Rapid City) are top teams. We've always sent teams up to Rapid City, so they're returning the favor in a sense this year. Billings is another area where teams come down for tournaments all the time, and now they are letting us see one of their top high school teams. It's going to be great to see what those guys can do.
"It's a great tournament, and it's really unique in that you get a good mix of American Legion teams and club teams together."
Teams from six different states will make up a 31-team field that begins pool play Wednesday. Among the premier Colorado teams that will be involved are two teams representing the Slammers organization, another pair representing Diamond Club, Cherry Creek and Ralston Valley.
Locally, Boulder will field two teams and Longmont-Erie, Silver Creek, Monarch and Peak to Peak will all host tournament games and have their top teams in the field. Erie and Silver Creek are new sites for 2016.
The top team from each of the six pools as well as two wild card teams will be placed in bracket play Saturday (quarterfinals) and Sunday (semifinals and championship), with all those contests scheduled to be played at Scott Carpenter Park.
Most, if not all of the facilities, will charge admission ($5 per day for adults, $3 for students ages 6-18) and have concessions available.
For the folks at Diamond Baseball, the NIT this year will once again serve as a primer for the American Legion Western Regional Tournament it is hosting August 3-7. By virtue of hosting the tournament, Kupfner's team will get the chance to play against several state summer champions.
"This will really give us a chance to prepare for the level of play at that one," Kupfner added.