Series provides entertaining baseball, preview of future stars

Posted Aug. 21, 2008, at 9:24 p.m.

Six years is not a long time to draw from when considering historical aspects of most events.

But the 2008 Senior League World Series begins Sunday at Mansfield Stadium, marking the seventh time the world’s best 14- through 16-year-old Little Leaguers have converged on Bangor from as far away as the Philippines and Lithuania.

And the previous six editions do help shape some of the story lines for this year’s weeklong event.

There’s the return of the first fan favorite, the team from the Pabao Little League of Willemsted, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. They’re not the same kids who won the first SLWS held in Bangor in 2002 and finished second the next year, but the talent and spirit that group brought to Mansfield captured the hearts of local fans while providing an immediate international feel to the tourney.

And don’t underestimate the baseball talent from all parts of the world, for from these teams of young phenoms come future stars with high baseball ceilings.

Consider that first Curacao team. Jair Jurrjens, for one, now pitches for the Atlanta Braves. At 22, he’s not a Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz yet, but he’s 10-7 with a 3.12 ERA in the big time.

His Curacao teammate, Curt Smith, enjoyed his SLWS experiences in Maine enough to attend the University of Maine. After a stellar career with the Black Bears, he has begun his professional career in the St. Louis Cardinals system.

And there are plenty of other Bangor SLWS players who have found homes in the minor league or collegiate ranks, and plenty more to come.

Another team to watch is the U.S. West champion from Pearl City, Hawaii. That program has lived a bridesmaid’s existence in recent series, losing the world championship game in both 2005 and 2006.

That program also has been a dominant force in the Junior League World Series for players 13 and 14, winning that world title in 2007.

Will the Hawaiians finally break through in Bangor? They’ll be one of the favorites.

The U.S. West, U.S. South and Latin America reps have been the most consistent contenders to win the world title from year to year, though U.S. Central and U.S. East also have won championships in Bangor.

Beyond that tier are emerging baseball regions such as Asia-Pacific, Canada and Europe, which this year features a Lithuanian team back for the second straight summer.

And, of course, there’s the interest that can be generated by a competitive run by the local entry, the Maine District 3 champion.

Bangor is back in the SLWS for the fifth time in seven years, having won games during pool play in three of its previous four appearances.

Who among fans of the event will forget Jordan Clarke’s no-hitter against Canada in the opening game just two years ago?

And who knows when something like that will happen again? Maybe this week.

The Senior League World Series is an event that shines a national and international spotlight on Mansfield Stadium, Bangor and eastern Maine, but sometimes it flies under the radar of the general public that lives closest to it.

Any baseball fan will derive considerable entertainment by taking in some of the games, and any parent of a Little Leaguer would be well-served by bringing their fledgling Dustin Pedroia or Derek Jeter out for a day at the ballpark.

For the baseball is fine, and the Senior League World Series in Bangor is history in the making.

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