WHEELING - While organizers Bo McConnaughy and B.A. Crawford are slowing down a bit - both have reached their retirement years -the mammoth baseball tournament they started more than two decades ago remains at the top of its game.
With 156 teams in Wheeling and the surrounding areas for the four-day event and 71 on the waiting list, it's clear the ''Beast'' is still the best.
''It's an institution by itself,'' Crawford said. ''Nobody that I know of can say they can get that many teams in place.''
The 24th annual Edgar Martin Beast of the East Classic unofficially begins Wednesday morning with the first of three annual Player Showcases (9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m. at Patterson Field in Elm Grove), followed by a college recruiting seminar at 8:30 p.m. at Wheeling Park's White Palace.
There's also Golden Arm and Home Run Derby competitions, directions to every field, coupons from area business who go out of their way to help in any way they can, and of course, a guaranteed seven-to-nine game schedule against high-level competition (weather permitting) from Thursday-Sunday.
Normally held the week of the Fourth of July, this year's Beast comes a little early, partly because of the leap year, and partly because Crawford and McConnaughy didn't want to wait until after the holiday and interfere with regional tournaments in Pony Leagues. It will be back to normal next year, when the dates are July 4-7, 2013.
The planning for that begins as soon as this one ends, and that trickles all the way down to the volunteers who man the fields and help raise money for any local organization they wish. One-hundred percent of the proceeds from each site remains there.
''(Individual field volunteers) ask me now the dates for next year so they can take their vacations,'' Crawford said. ''Where the hell do you get guys like that for a T-shirt? Only in the Wheeling area, I guess.''
As usual, there have been some pitfalls on the way to the 24th playing of the Beast. Crawford had to replace 12 teams that originally signed up to play in the 14-and-under tournament - more, he suspects, than all other age groups combined -and there were issues with a few fields.
For these two, these snags are old hat.
''After 24 years, you've seen it,'' Crawford said. ''You don't get too excited, but you do get excited.''
Among the changes for this year's Beast is the 16U championship game, which had traditionally been contested at Union Local, has been moved to John Marshall's field, where the 19U second-place game had been contested. They're also utilizing the Little League World Series-quality field at Lock 12 in Warwood to stage the Home Run Derby for the 12-and-under division.