CLEARWATER, Fla. – Forty games in four days should more than whet the appetite of even the most diehard softball fan.
Whether it is taking in as many games as possible, or a game or two of a favorite team, Clearwater’s Eddie C. Moore Complex will be the place to be starting next Thursday morning.
Sixteen teams will participate in the 2023 TaxAct Clearwater Invitational presented by EvoShield, the fourth of the event. Ten teams participating in the tourney are in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason rankings, including top-five UCLA, Oklahoma State, and Florida State.
The Seminoles, USF, and UCF are the teams from the Sunshine State participating in the event.
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“You are getting great competition early in the year that prepares you for what you will see in the postseason,” said Ken Erickson, who is in his 26th season as coach at USF. “You have some of the best pitching in the country coming to (Clearwater) and playing there for four days. It is like a postseason environment in the second weekend of the season.”
All 40 games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
“It’s a great showcase for the sport of softball,” said Erickson, who has led the Bulls to 17 NCAA tournament appearances and whose program opens this weekend by hosting the four-day USF-Rawlings Invitational. “Softball is a great made-for-TV sport because it is fast and in a short window that the viewership enjoys.”
The tournament and the city of Clearwater enjoy a relationship at a time of year when the weather generally could not be better. The exposure the city and region receive during four days of broadcasts is priceless marketing.
“It is the time of year when we are enjoying some of the best weather, and we have people coming down to visit,” said Steve Hayes, president, and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. “Every time a batter would hit a ball to the outfield, what do (those watching at home) see in the outfield? America’s Best Beaches.”
Hayes is referring to signage plugging 35 miles of sand, sun, and surf that St. Pete, Clearwater, and Dunedin have to offer.
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“It’s tough to buy that kind of exposure,” he said.
The curtain rises next Thursday at 10 a.m. when Oklahoma State and Texas A&M meet. The Bulls’ first game of the tourney will be Friday afternoon (1:00) against Duke. The Seminoles’ first game will be Thursday afternoon (4:00) against Arizona, while the Knights open against Michigan on Friday afternoon (3:00).
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