You can describe the West University Place, Texas’ Senior League contingent with a plethora of adjectives. Athletic, talented, skilled, and disciplined all come to mind. Following the final out of Saturday’s 8-1 victory over Holmes County, Ohio at Mansfield Stadium, you can also call them back to back world champions. The squad from this Houston bedroom community became the first Senior League team to take home consecutive banners since the event came to Bangor in 2002.
A number of players who graced the well manicured surface of Mansfield Stadium last week will go on to major college programs such as Texas A&M, Rice, TCU, and so on. These accomplishments are meritorious in their own right but more importantly they are some of the nicest, well-mannered young men you will ever meet.
In preparing for the opening night’s ceremony, I encountered several of the players during the course of the day. “Welcome back to Maine”. Invariably the response was “Thank you, sir”. Any answer to a question or comment I made to any of the kids from the Lone Star State was ended with the word sir. Feeling like a fish out of water, I brought a few of the boys aside and told them that I appreciated the respect, however, we tend to be a bit more casual in Maine, and you can call me Bob.
When it came time to take the field, they hustled out to their positions, they played with a purpose. Everyone, young and old, took notice. How gracious they were in taking time to sign autographs for the youngsters in attendance. They understood many little eyes were watching them and were such tremendous role models all week. The umpires took notice as well by awarding them the Danny Clifford Memorial Sportsmanship Award. This award has been presented since 2008 for the late Danny Clifford, a longtime Little League volunteer in Bangor. His motto was to play hard, play fair, and have fun. This team exhibited those qualities to a T.
A poignant moment I’ll remember from the week occurred following West U’s victory over a strong Pennsylvania team, who was a class act as well throughout the tournament. 6’5″ John Doxakis, after pitching a gem, took the time to play catch in the bullpen with 10-year-old Brayden Mott of Orrington. Brayden volunteered all week supporting the teams, making sure their coolers were full, and performing any other tasks necessary. The picture is worth more than a thousand words. These scenes took place on many occasions throughout the week.
Want to know why I keep coming back to work this tournament every year? It’s meeting such wonderful people such as the team from West University Place, Texas, as well as so many other amazing individuals from all over the world. While the games fade from memory, I’ll always cherish the time I got to spend with Coach Clint Sauls, Coach Parker Duffie, Coach Cape Bell, and the boys from West University Place, Texas. Coach Sauls said it best at the awards dinner when accepting the sportsmanship award. He said the award meant more to him than any of the other happenings on the field. Coach, your kids are truly a class act and play the game the right way. Congratulations, and thank you for a week I won’t soon forget!
Here are some other thoughts from Senior League World Series Week:
It was great to see many Little League age youth volunteering or in attendance at this year’s World Series. As I stated earlier, the kids in the stands or helping in the dugouts had many great role models to look up to. This event should ensure the interest in our national pastime will be alive and in our local communities for many years to come.
Perhaps the most discussed issue in this year’s series was the change in format from pool play to the modified double elimination format. The older levels of the Little League program over the years have had a bit of a branding conundrum. Is it Senior League? Is it Senior Little League? Is the Senior League World Series for old-timers? (Many associated with the World Series do get asked that.) This year’s logo for clarity’s sake stated “2015 Little League World Series” with Senior Baseball written below. In order to create more uniformity with the format for what is considered “Little League” in Williamsport and the other levels of the LL program, the modified double elimination format was adopted for this year’s Senior League World Series.
Of course there are pluses and minuses to any system. A double elimination format eliminates some of the quirky tie-breaking scenarios that can result from pool play. Double elimination works great at the Little League World Series as they have sixteen teams, which can easily be distributed into four groups of four teams each.
Teams coming to a championship event of this caliber should begin on as close to a level playing field as possible. In Bangor, under the new format this is more difficult to achieve based on an odd number of teams in each pool. Granted, Maine and the Southeast team will not be eligible for a first round bye next year. If the team representing the Southeast hails from Georgia next year, does it really make any difference to them if Virginia got a bye this year? Probably not.
Part of the charm of the Senior League World Series is to play against many different teams from all over the world. Under the pool play format, the only time two teams could play each other again would be in the championship game. This year’s series featured five repeat match-ups.
My ideal tournament set up would be to revert back to pool play. The pools would be chosen based on an “S” curve factoring in the regions’ winning percentages over the series’ fourteen years in Bangor. For instance, the region with the highest winning percentage would be in Pool A. The second and third highest in Pool B, fourth and fifth in Pool A, and so forth. Despite some of the tie-breaking scenarios, this to me is the fairest, most equitable format.
Old Town for the first time served as host team at the Senior League World Series as champions of Maine District 3. The people of Old Town have a great reputation of supporting their hometown teams and they certainly came out in great numbers. There was definitely some question about how they might draw, considering they were not guaranteed prime time slots due to the new modified double elimination format. Despite playing at 1:00 on a Monday afternoon, people showed up in numbers, with the crowds growing throughout the week.
Coach Troy Sheehan and his boys are to be commended for being such outstanding hosts for the event. Throughout the entire week you could see the coaches and many of the players in the stands supporting the other teams, as well. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of these kids and they certainly made the most of it.
The 2015 Senior League World Series marked a homecoming for Holmes County, Ohio’s Caleb Miller, who played in the 2010 series. Caleb’s vantage point was significantly different five years later as he watched most of the championship game from the Mansfield Stadium press box. For the final five innings he provided color for WKLM FM radio out of Millersburg, Ohio, working alongside play-by-play announcer Matt Croy.
He and many other family members made the fourteen hour journey each way to support his brother Derek, an outfielder and pitcher. Caleb received some good natured ribbing following Ohio’s 8-1 loss in the championship game. He took over his duties behind the mic in the third inning when Texas prompted erupted for seven runs to break a 1-1 tie. The elder Miller still has fond memories of his World Series appearance, winning a couple of games along the way.
When Regina, Saskatchewan and Nogales, Arizona wrapped up play last Wednesday, their seasons seemed to be over. All that remained was to attend Friday night’s awards banquet and catch their flights back to their respective home towns. The boys were not done yet. Rather than hang around the hotel all day, they decided to get together and hold a scrimmage at Bangor’s Garland Street Field. The game was umpired by some of the Maine District 3 umpires. In the lunch line back at Mansfield Stadium you couldn’t tell who won or lost.
This year’s series also brought back the return of the all-star game after a nine-year hiatus. It was good to hear the crack of the bat at Mansfield Stadium, as wooden bats were used in the contest following that morning’s Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau Showcase.
The Senior League World Series is a festive affair but for the members of the Saipan Little League from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, their hearts were heavy. A large typhoon did major destruction to their islands while they were here in Bangor. This event has a way of bringing out the spirit of togetherness and generosity. Through the kind-hearted efforts of many, over $5,400 was raised through Friday night to aid in their relief efforts.
When I reflect back on the Senior League World Series, the games will soon fade from memory, many already have. What I won’t soon forget are the people I’ve met. People, who all share a love of this great game called baseball.