By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Young ballplayers around the country and world had their sights on Taylor last week as regional tournaments began to determine qualifying teams for the 35th annual Junior League World Series.
“We have a legitimate World Series,” Director Greg Bzura said. “It’s international from five regions, with a lot of returning teams if not players.”
For three-and-a-half decades, the planet’s best 13- and 14-year-old players have met for a week’s worth of games in Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road.
Qualifying tournament winners from five international regions – Canada, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe-Africa and the Middle East – enter brackets alongside five U.S. regions. Play begins Aug. 16, and will run through the final championship game on Aug. 23.
Bzura said thousands of players from 29 states and dozens of global communities have participated since the first tournament was held in 1981. That initial bracket of just four U.S. regions soon spanned the globe, and players from the tournament have gone on to high school, college and even professional play.
“The formula is the same,” Bzura said of the daily schedule of four games each Sunday through Thursday, with Friday open to crossover games and any rain-cancelled makeup games that may be needed. Saturday’s contests determine the top U.S. and International teams who will compete in Sunday’s final contest, a game broadcast on ESPN’s website.
Early qualifiers who last week earned a spot in the bracket include champs from Chinese Taipei, representatives of a team that won last year’s JLWS; a team from Panama to represent Latin America; and players from the Czech Republic topped the Europe-Africa tournament.
Regional competitions across the United States have begun, and last week’s tournaments included a win by Frederick County, Va’s., all-stars to take the USA Southeast Region title.
The tournament will officially kick off with a parade of champions on Aug. 15. Scores and bracket updates will be posted on www.facebook.com/JuniorLeagueWorldSeries.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)