Players return for Junior League World Series

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File photo by Dave Gorgon
Tournament play begins today for the Junior League World Series, marking the 33rd year that Taylor has played host to the top 13- and 14-year-old baseball teams from around the world. Last year’s champs hailed from Rockledge, Fla., making two wins in a row for the Sunshine State.

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — “Top ten” lists may be overrated, but there’s no denying that the teams preparing for today’s opening pitch of the 33rd annual Junior League World Series rank among the best 13- and 14-year-old baseball players in the world.

After yesterday’s opening ceremonies that welcomed hundreds of global visitors to the city, tournament play begins at noon today at Heritage Park.

JLWS Director Greg Bzura — also marking his 33rd year with the tournament, having been there from its beginning — said the annual event demonstrates the universal bond of baseball. To date visitors from two dozen global towns have visited Taylor, along with boys from 29 U.S. states.

Players continue taking the field, “even in parts of the world where they’re having troubles,” Bzura said of the ongoing participation.

The tournament has grown considerably since first held in Taylor in 1981, when teams representing four U.S. regions gathered on the field. The “Junior League” qualifying ages of 13 and 14 attracted players too old for the various Little League organizations — the recent Little League World Series in Pennsylvania is the only tournament to have run longer than the JLWS — and not yet ready for high school play.

Since then, local supporters, including Bzura, have seen the competition grow to include five American regions competing alongside international teams from Canada, Mexico/Puerto Rico, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Maintaining the tournament has likewise become more involved. “An all-year operation,” Bzura said. The end result will always focus on children having fun, and Bzura said they’ve been doing so with increasing ability.

“We see the kids getting better,” Bzura said.

The JLWS — as with Major League Baseball — reflects the game’s increasing global presence. Players from regions that allow year-round baseball are, as a result, demonstrating considerable talent for the game.

“The more they play, the better they get,” Bzura said.

Four games will be played daily through Thursday. The International championship game is set for 4 p.m. Friday followed by the American title game at 7 p.m.

Tournament play begins today with teams in American and International pools.

In the five American regions, Goodlettsville, Tenn’s., teal took the Southeast title from Palma Ceia, Fla., a two-time winning city; the East Region will be represented by Massapequa Park, N.Y.; the boys from Bedford, Ind., topped Central Region play; Lafayette, La. won the Southwest competition; and the Rio Rico team from Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday defeated Southern California to take the Western Region crown.

From the international pool, teams playing in Michigan this week are: Taoyuan, Chinese Tapai representing Asia-Pacific; Brno, Czech Republic, representing Europe; Willemstad, Curacao, from Latin America; Menati from Puerto Rico; and Calgary, Alberta, from Canada.

All games will be played at Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road. Saturday’s championship game will be broadcast live by ESPN on its website www.ESPN3.com. The game will be replayed on TV on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Aug. 21.

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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