50th Senior League season a special one in Bangor

Posted Aug. 19, 2010, at 10:10 p.m.

    The emblem painted on the hillside beyond the outfield fence at Mansfield Stadium is both large and subtle.

The sheer size of the blue and white artwork prevents it from being ignored by the thousands of fans who have taken in a game or more at this year’s Senior League World Series, but the “50” painted within the emblem as well as the “1960-2010” printed beneath only hint at its meaning.

Senior League Baseball is observing its 50th anniversary in Bangor this week with a world championship tournament that through Thursday had proved to be a fitting testament to a half-century of national and global competition.

The winning teams are happy and even the less successful teams generally are seeing the bigger picture through their immediate disappointment to appreciate their accomplishments while enjoying the picture-perfect weather and hospitality offered by tournament organizers and the people of Bangor and eastern Maine.

Surely the folks in Natrona Heights, Pa., can appreciate the Senior League Baseball experience. That community is home to the first SLWS champion back in 1961, when Senior League involved players ages 13-16 and the event was held in Williamsport, Pa. Since then the tourney has remained an international celebration of youth baseball.

And this week that’s been especially true, in no small part due to the excitement generated by a successful host team.

Representing Maine District 3 for the seventh time since the tournament was moved from Kissimmee, Fla., to Bangor in 2002, the Bangor Senior League All-Stars have achieved unprecedented success for a local entry, even before Josiah Hartley stunned the tournament with his dramatic seventh-inning home run Thursday evening to give the host team a 4-3 upset of the defending SLWS champions from the West University Little League in Houston, Texas, and a berth in Friday’s semifinals.

Hartley’s 400-foot blast epitomized a breakthrough run for Bangor, and as a byproduct a breakthrough season for the tournament itself in the Queen City. Crowds for this year’s event have been big when the home team is playing, with 1,300 fans on hand Thursday.

An advantageous early schedule didn’t hurt Bangor’s cause. No offense to the teams from Edmonton, Alberta, and Lazio, Italy, but Canada and the EMEA (Europe-Middle East-Africa) traditionally have been two of the weaker regions to be represented in the SLWS.

Yet they are just as much a part of the 10-team, five-nation event as teams from the more successful regions such as Latin America and the U.S. East and West, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with scheduling Bangor to face Canada and EMEA early in the tournament with the additional potential of building momentum for the entire week.

After all, the local team still has to beat those foes to generate more local enthusiasm for both themselves and the tournament, and this year Bangor has done so in impressive fashion thanks to a team steeped in SLWS experience from the year before and hardened by playing against older American Legion competition this summer.

Thursday’s evening triumph over the defending world champions represents the possibilities any kid in any sport should take onto their personal field of dreams.

But even if Bangor’s tournament run had ended Thursday, this year’s Senior League World Series has provided ample evidence that while it remains a somewhat underappreciated part of the Eastern Maine summer scene, it truly has found a home in Bangor.

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