BANGOR — The Bangor Band, the bagpipers, clowns making balloon toys, modern-day stilt walkers — all were part of the backdrop to Saturday evening’s welcoming ceremonies for the 10 teams that will compete this week for the 50th annual Senior League World Series championship.
But the star of the show, as it always has been since the tournament has been played in Bangor beginning in 2002 — is the field itself, the plush grass and neatly cropped infield of Mansfield Stadium.
“It’s beautiful, man, nice,” said Jonathan Tenorio, manager of the Asia Pacific championship team from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“I wish our field at home was like this. Our field’s all right, but you can’t compare this to our field. This field is the place where you want to come to play because it’s the best field.”
CNMI, a chain of 15 islands located about three-fourths of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, has sent a Senior League team to Bangor before, in 2007, when it represented Asia Pacific with a 2-2 record in pool play.
This year’s contingent from the commonwealth’s population center on the island of Saipan, is completely different, though Tenorio said he got a scouting report on the SLWS’s home from an umpire who worked the World Series last year.
“He told us it was a nice venue, the field was nice, and that Bangor, Maine, is a great place to play baseball,” said Tenorio, whose team endured nearly 19 hours of plane flights to arrive in Bangor late Friday night with stops in Japan, Detroit and Portland, Maine.
“Our goal is to basically have a good, friendly relationship with all the teams here, including the host team,” said Tenorio, “and to see how we can do.”
Another team enamored with Bangor and Mansfield Stadium is the West University Little League of Houston, Texas, which is back in the Queen City after winning the 2009 SLWS title.
“I told everybody Bangor was a great place,” said manager Trey Cornelius. “Everybody takes care of us here, and you get to come out and play on a great field against some great competition.”
Most of the Texas players didn’t require such a scouting report, as 10 are back from last year’s championship group in an effort to become the first team to win back-to-back titles during the tournament’s run in Bangor.
“We probably didn’t expect to get back,” said Cornelius. “But we had a team with a lot of guys who were on the team last year, and they set a goal for themselves and we achieved it.
When the boys take that initiative themselves, it makes it easier on everybody else and the expectation kind of takes care of itself.”
The SLWS opening ceremonies ended with their traditional fireworks, but sparks from those fireworks set off from just beyond the center-field fence started a small fire nearby.
The fire, which started just as the fireworks show was ending shortly after 8:30 p.m., involved one pine tree and an area of 5 to 6 square feet, according to SLWS tournament director Mike Brooker.
The pine tree flared up on several occasions, but did not spread to other nearby trees before Central Maine Pyrotechnics workers along with tournament staff members Troy Lare, a member of the Bangor Fire Department; Jimmy Owens, a retired Bangor police officer; and Chris Grant were able to extinguish it before it spread.
Two units from the Bangor Fire Department arrived soon after to make sure the fire was out and didn’t start anew.