By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The field is ready, the teams have qualified; all that’s left is to play ball as the 31st annual Junior League World Series begins today.
The goal: Saturday’s final showdown between the International and USA brackets for the championship.
Beginning today at Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road, champions from five U.S. and Canadian regions and four international teams will field some of the best 13- and 14-year-old baseball players on the planet.
Tournament play builds to Friday’s International and American championship games, and the winners square off Saturday at 11 a.m. for the championship, to be televised on ESPN2.
Last week’s playoffs nearly resulted in a hometown team taking the field, as the all-stars from Taylor South/North Central fell one game short of the USA Central title with an 8-6 loss against North Canton, Ohio. The Taylor team’s ascension to last week’s playoff game, held in Fort Wayne, Ind., was the farthest into the tournament yet that a Taylor team has reached.
In Louisiana Wednesday, the USA Southwest title was claimed by Rosenberg (Texas East), defeating Blanchard, La., 12-3. This will be the 13th appearance in the JLWS for a Texan crew of players.
The Sunnyside Little League team from Tucson, Ariz., dominated the USA West title matchup with a 10-0 victory over Nampa, Idaho, Tuesday. A generation ago, a Tucson team visited Taylor and went home with the championship trophy.
In the Southeast, the all-stars from Palma Ceia in Tampa, Fla., narrowly edged out Elkton, Va.’s, top players 5-4 Tuesday. The team’s neighbors from Palma Ceia/Bayshore won the championship in 2004.
Preliminary tournaments ended Thursday when Johnston, R.I., took the USA East spot with back-to-back wins over Perkasie, Penn., the first team from the smallest state to make it to the JLWS.
In the International Pool, Canada’s representatives were determined Thursday with Surrey, B.C., rounding out the pool of global talent. International teams from Chinese Tapei (Asia-Pacific region), Italy (Europe, Middle East, Africa), Venezuela (Latin America) and Yabuca (Puerto Rico) previously qualified to complete the brackets.
Following yesterday’s opening ceremonies, parade of champions and fireworks, tournament play begins today at noon, with four games played each day through Thursday. Today’s matchups are North Canton, Ohio, (USA Central) vs. Johnston, R.I., (USA East); Italy (EMEA) vs. Tapei (Asia-Pacific); Tucson (USA West) vs. Tampa (USA Southeast); and Venezuela (Latin America) vs. Puerto Rico. Monday’s contests are Tucson vs. Texas East (USA Southwest), Puerto Rico vs. Surrey, Tapei vs. Venezuela and Johnston vs. Tampa.
Friday’s two evening contests are the International Championship (5 p.m.) and USA Championship, the winners from which hit the field at 11 a.m. Saturday for the championship trophy.
Dave Gorgon, communications director for the event, said the event is becoming a Downriver fixture, and the community demonstrates great support for the hundreds of international guests.
“Last year we had hundreds and hundreds of fans who came to support the Chinese Tapei team,” Grogon said. “They packed the field and really showed great support.”
For more information, go to www.cityoftaylor.com/worldseries.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)