USF to host Big East tournament

Come May, when and if the baseball team makes the Big East tournament in its first year in the conference, the Bulls and their fans won’t have to drive far to see it.

The Big East, in conjunction with the Clearwater Thrashers, announced Tuesday that the 2006 Big East baseball tournament will be hosted in Clearwater at Bright House Networks Field, which is also the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies and its Class-A affiliate, the Thrashers.The tournament will run May 23-28.

With this season’s realignment of the Big East, team membership jumped to 12 teams, but only the conference’s top eight teams will make the double-elimination tournament, with the champion receiving the Big East’s bid in the NCAA tournament.

No. 22 Notre Dame was picked to finish first in the Big East, while USF was picked third.

“The Big East Conference is extremely excited to be bringing its 2006 Baseball Championship to the beautiful city of Clearwater and to a state-of-the-art facility like Bright House Networks Field,” commissioner Michael Tranghese said in a statement.

Coach Eddie Cardieri, in his 21st year with USF, is excited not only that the tournament will be held in the Bay area, but it means he’ll get to stay close to home as well.

“It’s not necessarily the field we always play on,” said Cardieri, who led the team to a record of 33-31 in 2005. “But it’s a great thing for us to be thought of well enough to host the Big East tournament in our first year in the conference.”

Cardieri admitted playing the tournament in Clearwater will help with recruiting local talent, but also said he was happy to play on such a nice field.

Legends Field, which hosts the New York Yankees during spring training, was also being considered as a host site, but Bright House Networks Field is newer, having opened in 2004, and seats 8,500.

“It was a long consideration. The field is beautiful, and everyone is going to get behind us – the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Pinellas Sports Commission, the city of Clearwater – and help us make it a great event,” Cardieri said.

The Big East tournament had been held at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J., for the past six years, but Cardieri likes the possibility of playing postseason ball in the team’s home state.

“This is definitely extra motivation (to make the tournament),” he said. “We’re just going to take the season one section at a time, but it’s one thing to qualify for the tournament. It’s another to win the league. So our goal right now is to win the Big East regular season.”