By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The first cry of “Play ball!” at 11 a.m. Aug. 16 kicks off a week’s worth of baseball as the 35th annual Junior League World Series gets under way.
Ten teams of 13- and 14-year-old players from around the world – representing five each U.S. and international regions – take over the fields at Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road, with eyes on the championship contest next Sunday.
Director Greg Bzura said this year’s tournament began later in August than in most years, maintaining its traditional starting date of three weeks prior to Labor Day, which this year falls on Sept. 7.
Beginning Sunday four games will be held daily through Thursday, at 11 a.m. and 2, 5 and 8 p.m., with contests kept within U.S. and international brackets. Friday’s schedule is open to crossover games, Bzura said, and also reserved for any rain-cancelled games that have to be played.
Saturday’s activities include a Home Run Derby competition before championship games for the International bracket at 3 p.m. and United States bracket at 6 p.m. The winners will hit the field at 1 p.m. Aug. 16 for the JLWS Championship game, to be followed by closing ceremonies.
Qualifying play in recent weeks across the United States ended with teams that will represent the following regions: the Ridgewood, N.J. Little League Junior All Stars will represent U.S. East; the Frederick County National East Little League champs from Winchester, Va., will play for U.S. Southeast; the Johnston Little League champs of Iowa will represent U.S. Central; the Weslaco, Texas, Panthers topped the U.S. Southwest tournament; and players from Pearl City, Hawaii, will stand for U.S. West.
Global competitors will play on behalf of the following regions: Brno, Czech Republic players will represent Europe-Africa; players from Tai Chung City in Chinese Taipei – from the same junior high school that won last year’s tournament – will play for the Asia-Pacific region; the national champions from Villa Blanca, Caguas, P.R., will take their turn at the JLWS; the Aguadulce Cabezera Little League champs will make their JLWS debut on behalf of Latin America; and the Ontario provincial champions of Oakville will take the field for Canada.
The players follow a tradition first held between just four U.S. regions in 1981. Since then, Bzura said players from 30 states, four Canadian provinces and 23 countries have participated.
The final championship game will be broadcast on ESPN’s web site. Scores and bracket updates will be posted throughout the tournament on www.facebook.com/JuniorLeagueWorldSeries.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected].)