BANGOR, Maine — While top baseball teams from around the United States and Canada have battled in regional tournaments this week to qualify for the 49th Senior League World Series, the host team has essentially been idle for more than three weeks.
“It can be to our advantage, because we’ve been able to rest our arms and bodies while the other teams have been traveling all over the place,” said Jack Stacey, an infielder for the Maine District 3 champion Bangor Senior League All-Stars.
“But it can also be to their advantage because they’ve been playing more baseball.”
Bangor isn’t alone in playing the waiting game until the SLWS — the world championships for players ages 14 through 16 — starts Sunday at Mansfield Stadium.
Makati City, Philippines, clinched the Asia Pacific title on June 28 while Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, won the Europe-Middle East-Africa crown and San Nicolas, Aruba, claimed the Latin America title on July 18.
Bangor has played two exhibition games and a scrimmage since winning its district title for the sixth time in the last eight years, but largely the team has had to make the most of practice sessions.
And how they’ve approached those practices may be pivotal to how they fare once the games begin.
For there’s little time to ease into the Senior League World Series, as a win or loss on the first day of pool play is just as important as a win or loss later in the event.
“The key is being able to have the same focus in practice like you do in a game,” said Bangor outfielder Tyler Desjardins. “In batting practice you have to think of game situations like you should be doing all the time.
“We’ve been picking it up this last week and doing everything we can to get into the right state of mind.”
Bangor is 4-16 in five previous SLWS appearances, winning one game in four of those previous years, including 2008.
Despite the overall record the hosts generally have been competitive against their world-class opposition.
Take last summer, for example. Bangor opened with a 7-2 loss to Canada in a game that was tied at 2-2 until Surrey, British Columbia’s Adam Quan hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Bangor then defeated Makati City, Philippines, 14-1, before falling to unbeaten U.S. South winner Boynton Beach, Fla., 10-9 in eight innings. Both Canada and the U.S. South advanced from Pool A to the semifinals where they dropped one-run decisions.
This year Bangor will field the youngest team in its six SLWS appearances, with five 16-year-old players and 10 15-year-olds on the roster.
But the four returning players from Bangor’s 2008 entry — Stacey, Desjardins, Joe Stanevicz and Jacques Larochelle — have been working to let their teammates understand how fine the line can be between victory and defeat in the SLWS, even for the home team.
“We try to tell them that they’re all good teams in the World Series but we have the ability to compete with them,” said Larochelle, a catcher-third baseman. “We just need to try our hardest and play the best baseball we’re capable of playing.”
Bangor will count on its pitching and defense in this year’s pursuit of SLWS success. Stanevicz and Curtis Worcester, both lefthanders, will team with righthanders Jesse Wood, Cody Savage and Luke Hetterman as the team’s primary pitchers.
Stanevicz, Worcester and Wood not only have stood out at the Senior League level, but all three saw key mound duty in late July and early August while helping Bangor’s American Legion team win the Zone 1 title and advance to the state tournament.
“Pitching might be one of our strengths,” said Bangor manager Ron St. Pierre, who is assisted by coaches John Folsom and Lance Cowan. “We’ve got some kids who pitched last year, and now they have a year of experience under their belts.”
Others on the roster are outfielder Christian Corneil, catcher Adam King, first baseman Josiah Hartley, shortstop Nic Cota, pitcher-outfielder Phil Frost, infielder Jacob Searles and utility player Seth Freudenberger.
“We’re pretty versatile as far as defense goes,” said St. Pierre. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play different positions.”
After facing the Canadian champion, the remainder of Bangor’s games in Pool A will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday (against Makati City, Philippines), Wednesday (U.S. South champ Greenville, S.C.) and Thursday (U.S. West winner Fremont, Calif.).
“It means a lot to have this chance to be at home and play all these great teams from around the world,” said Stanevicz. “It’s a great feeling, and will be even better if we can go out and win two games.”