By DAVE GORGON
For the Sunday Times Newspapers
1. The stars of today could be the Major Leaguers of tomorrow
The history of the Junior League World Series includes an impressive list of players who went on to careers in professional and college sports. The latest JLWS alumnus to make it to the pros is Patrick Mahomes II, who played for Tyler, Texas, in the 2010 World Series. He went on to quarterback the Texas Tech University football team and was selected with the Kansas City Chiefs’ first pick (10th overall) in the 2017 National Football League draft. Matt Cassel, who scored a record five runs in a game for Northbridge, Calif., in the 1995 JLWS, plays quarterback for the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. Freddy Galvis, who played for his hometown team from Venezuela in the 2004 JLWS, is the starting shortstop with the Philadelphia Phillies. Others JLWS alums have included former pro baseball players Gary Sheffield, Eric Bedard, Brett Myers, brothers Jose and Javier Valentin, Erubiel Durazo, Chad Hermansen, Derek Bell, Delino DeShields, Shannon Withem, Adam Loewen and Chris Brock. Chris Dingman and Steve Reinprecht went on to play in the National Hockey League. Mark “Bo” Pelini played for the first JLWS champs in 1981 and went on to play and coach college football.
2. You never know who might show up
Steve Avery was a star at Taylor Kennedy High School before enjoying a Major League baseball career, most notably with the Atlanta Braves, where he played on the 1995 World Series championship team, was an all-star in 1993 and was MVP of the 1991 National League Championship Series. Steve, who still lives in the area, has participated several times in opening ceremonies of the JLWS, signing autographs and posing for photos. Some JLWS fans still remember then-Detroit Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson taking part in the ceremonial first pitch more than 20 years ago. A number of Tigers have stopped by Heritage Park during the series, including Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who paid his native Puerto Rico team a visit several years ago. Pudge was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 30.
3. The World Series has been in Taylor since Day One
In 1981, Greg Bzura and a group of volunteers founded the “13-Year-Old World Series” at the Taylor South Little League at what would become known as Heritage Park. The field was specifically designed for 13-year-old ballplayers. That first year, the series featured four USA regional champions. Thirty-six years later, the “Junior League World Series” remains in Taylor. The age limit has expanded to include 14-year-olds and the field dimensions have grown. For the second straight year, 11 teams from around the world will earn the right to play in Taylor. The JLWS is second only to the famous Little League World Series in years played in the same city. And Bzura remains the longest-serving director of any World Series.
4. It’s truly a “World” Series
Last year, Australia was granted an automatic berth into the JLWS – for good reason. Nowhere is Little League growing faster than the “land down under.” Through 2016, teams have come to Taylor from 30 different states of the USA and 25 international locations, including Aruba, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Curacao, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Guam, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Saipan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ukraine and Venezuela
5. There’s constant improvement
When a fire destroyed the original press box/dugout building just 93 days prior to the 1988 World Series, volunteers and supporters combined to build a new facility before the first pitch in what is still called a “World Series miracle.” Since then, series organizers have continuously found ways to make the JLWS better. That building has expanded upward. The World Series complex eventually received new wrought-iron fencing and brick pavers to give it more of a stadium feel. The Memorial Garden was created to honor volunteers who have passed away. A major funding campaign led to new field lights. A video scoreboard was installed. New batting cages donated by UAW Ford gave players and coaches a place to practice. Last year, the first of two bullpens was built in foul territory in right field. A second is scheduled for next year. Fencing upgrades are in the works. For the first time this year, the USA champs and the International champs will each receive a banner to go along with the trophy to signify their achievements. Officials hope one day that the number of teams expands to 12.
6. Everyone is a volunteer – including the umpires
Without volunteers, there would be no Junior League World Series. The workers who tirelessly give their all have a goal of making sure visitors to Taylor have a wonderful experience and leave with great memories. From Director Greg Bzura to food services to the souvenir sales force to the 50/50 ticket folks to the grounds crew to the statisticians and beyond, everyone is a volunteer. Even the members of the highly-qualified and much-accomplished umpire crew, who travel from all parts of the country with a minimal travel stipend, are volunteers. Thanks to all volunteers!
7. If you can’t make it to Heritage Park, you can always watch on your computer
The JLWS can be viewed via streaming video with play by play, thanks to a free service provided by lifelong World Series volunteer Jim Gerick of Taylor. Fans around the world can go to the website www.ustream.tv/channel/jlws. Streaming video involves a still camera that shows the game action as it happens while volunteer members of the broadcast crew talk about the game. Those who want to participate in a chat portion of the service will need to register.
8. The sports leader shows the world championship game around the world
The world championship game of the 2017 Junior League World Series will be broadcast live at noon Aug. 20, on one of the ESPN channels – and most likely on the ESPN website. Annually, ESPN showcases World Series Field at Heritage Park in Taylor, around the world. Consult your local listings.
9. It’s still the best sports deal in town
Lots of sports fans can’t believe the low cost of admission to the Junior League World Series at Heritage Park. It’s just $5 per day per carload – or $15 for a weeklong pass to every game. Both prices include parking. Fans pay as they enter the park from either the Pardee or Northline entrances. Seating is general admission. Lawn chairs are welcome.
10. Opening ceremonies are Impressive
The opening ceremonies of the Junior League World Series are scheduled to begin about 8 p.m. Aug. 12, on World Series Field at Heritage Park. Admission is free and tournament organizers count on local fans to make visitors feel welcome. The evening includes a colorful parade of champions featuring all 11 teams, a special presentation of the U.S. National Anthem featuring Taylor public safety personnel surrounding a giant American flag, speeches by dignitaries and a unique ceremonial first pitch involving a player from each team. The event concludes with fireworks at dusk. Everyone is invited.