South Carolina pitcher Tucker Burgess slides home as New Mexico catcher Jacob Garcia puts on the tag in the Junior League World Series opener last year. The 30th JLWS gets under way next Sunday in Taylor.
Chinese Taipei qualifies for 30th Junior League World Series
TAYLOR — For as long as he can remember, Greg Bzura has longed to have a team from China in the Junior League World Series.
Bzura, founder and director of the series played annually in the city, remembers Taiwan playing seemingly every year for the championship of the Little League World Series. For the record, Taiwan qualified 24 times to play in the World Series for 12-year-olds in Williamsport, Pa. – and won it a record 17 times.
But Taiwan never entered a team in the tournament leading to the Junior League World Series of baseball.
One year, Bzura had T-shirts made up for series volunteers that were yellow with a red stripe to represent “Red China.”
“My prediction was that someday a team would come from Taiwan to Taylor,” Bzura said. “People said they were the ugliest T-shirts they had ever seen.”
This year – the 30th year of the Junior League World Series for the best teams of 13- and 14-year-olds from around the globe – Bzura’s dream comes true. A team from Taiwan, now known as Chinese Taipei, has won the Asia-Pacific regional championship and will play in the city when the World Series gets under way next Sunday.
Chinese Taipei and teams from Ukraine and Mexico are the first three international squads to qualify for the World Series. The champions of Latin America and Canada and five regional champions from across the United States will round out the field.
Bzura has gone out on a limb and declared Chinese Taipei the “odds-on favorite” to win the series.
“I’m never right,” Bzura said, “but we have no choice but to recognize them. They’re not known for losing.”
The last time a team from Taiwan won the Little League World Series was in 1996. However, last year, a team from the Kuei-Shan Little League in Taoyuan County, Chinese Taipei, finished runner-up to the Little League world champions from Chula Vista, Calif.
This year’s representative in the older Junior division in Taylor will be from the Chung-Chung Junior Little League in Taipei City, which rolled through the other 13- and 14-year-old teams in the Asia-Pacific region July 10 through 15 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Taipei City went 5-0 in pool play, destroyed Guam, 16-0, in the semifinals and shut out Makati City, Philippines, for the title, 7-0.
In seven games in Indonesia, the Asia-Pacific champs outscored their opponents, 86-6.
Bzura figures he will need at least three interpreters for this year’s Junior League World Series. The Kirovograd Center/Rivne team from Ukraine, which played in Taylor in 2007, returns as champion of the Europe/Middle East/Africa region. And Guaymas, Sonora, will be back as the Mexican national champion.
The EMEA tournament was larger than ever – a testament to the growing popularity of baseball in the region, Bzura said. Thirteen teams representing 12 nations in the tourney played July 11 through 17 in Kutno, Poland.
The Ukraine team went 3-0 in pool play, defeating Tiraspol, Moldova; Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa; and Naples, Italy. In the semifinals, it ousted the United States military team from the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, 6-1. In the EMEA championship game, Ukraine edged Lazio, Italy, 5-4.
If history is a predictor, Ukraine may have its hands full in Taylor. In 2007, the Ukrainian boys were extremely popular among fans and the media, but went 0-4 in the International Pool.
Guaymas, Sonora, has sent Mexican national championship teams to Taylor in 2004 and 2006. Each year, the teams won three games, but fell short of winning the world championship. In fact, in 2006, the Guaymas team lost by just a run, 2-1, in the World Series finale to El Campo, Texas.
This year, Guaymas will try again after going 6-0 and winning the national tournament in Mexico City.
Due to the popularity of baseball in the Latin America region, the national champions of Mexico and Puerto Rico alternate years of automatic berths in the Junior League World Series. Teams from Mexico come in even-numbered years.
This year, Puerto Rico still had a chance to make it back to Taylor, but had to win the Latin America regional tournament late last month in Guatemala City.
All of the other regional tournaments – Canada and the five in the United States – will take place this month.