Let the games begin: JLWS action continues through Saturday’s championship games

Chinese_Taipei_Victory_Lap_2010.jpgweb
Photo by Dave Gordon
The team from Chinese Taipei celebrates its Junior Leauge World Series title in 2010. Chinese Taipei represents the Asia Division for the fifth consecutive season as play got under way Saturday.

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — The way Junior League World Series communications director Dave Gorgon sees it, there won’t be any losers on the field by the time tournament play concludes this week.

Ten teams representing five U.S. districts and five global regions kicked off the tournament Saturday after proving their worth back home.

“They’re all champions,” Gorgon said. “They’ve all won regional or national tournaments. We have the Mexican and Canadian national champions who beat all other teams in their homeland. They all arrive as champs ready to play the best of the best.”

For the 34th year Taylor plays host to the best 13- and 14-year-old players from around the world, a tournament started in the city as a national championship for players too old for Little League but not yet ready for high school play. The tournament grew steadily over the next three decades, whether adding to its global claim or making slight adjustments.

“We want to make it better every year,” Gorgon said. “This year the focus has been on the field, with new sod and changing the dimensions a little.”

Friday’s opening ceremonies — held on revamped fields made possible in part by donations from Taylor-based Wade-Trim and Louie’s Landscaping of Brownstown Township — were in part bittersweet. Gorgon said this year’s tournament is dedicated to the memory of co-founder Steve Gerick, who served as scorekeeper from the beginning and passed away last month at age 52.

Friday’s ceremonies also honored hometown heroes from the Taylor Intermediate All-Stars, 11- to 13-year-old players who’d won the state title and competed last month in that division’s World Series in California.

Gorgon said that home-state pride continued when tournament play began Saturday. For the first time since 1991 a Michigan team — all-stars from Midland — will represent the Central Division.

“We expect to get more local attention this year,” Gorgon said. The JLWS features players new and familiar: a team from Delaware marks that state’s first entry in 30 years, while boys from Chinese Taipei won the Asia Division for the fifth consecutive year.

Gorgon said the tournament — with a history of alumni that made it into professional baseball — brings out the best in both players and people.

“They’re here to have a challenge,” Gorgon said, “and make memories every day they’re here.”

In recent weeks five global and five American teams rose to the challenge in playoff competition to qualify for the JLWS. Last week confirmed the Series berths in five U.S. regions:

The East Division will be represented by the Newark National Little League stars from Delaware, who topped a team from Waldorf, Md., during tournament play in New Jersey.

All-stars from Rutherfordton, N.C., won the Southeast tournament in South Carolina by topping Melbourne, Fla’s., finest players.

The Central Division will be represented by home-state favorites from Midland, whose all-stars defeated West Bend, Wis., in the regional final Wednesday in Indiana.

The Oil Belt Junior League all-stars from Corpus Christi, Tex., won the Southwest region Wednesday by defeating state rivals from Texas West during tournament play in New Mexico.

From the West will be the Manhattan/Hermosa Beach all-stars, who defeated Arizona’s champs in Wednesday finale in Washington state.

The following teams qualified during global competitions held last month to earn their place in this week’s tournament: Latin America will be represented by the Pariba Little League all-stars from Willemstad, Curacao; Tai Chung’s all-stars from Chung-Shan Junior High School in Chinese Tapei — which produced last year’s JLWS champs — will represent Asia; Mexico will send the championship team from Felix Arce; the South Moravia Little League stars from Brno, Czech Republic will represent Europe-Africa; and Canada’s top team comes from Regina, Saskatchewan.

Tournament play continues daily before Saturday’s championship playoffs. All games will be played at Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road; admission is free with a $5 entry fee per vehicle.

For schedule information go to www.cityoftaylor.com/juniorleagueworldseries, or follow the tournament on Facebook on the JLWS page.

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

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