Future stars shine at Senior League World Series

Posted Aug. 11, 2011, at 6:06 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 11, 2011, at 10:43 p.m.
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Jari Jurrjens delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during a game in July. Jurrjens is one of six players who played at the SLWS in Bangor who have gone on to play in the major leagues. Thirty players have signed professional baseball contracts.
AP |File Photo
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Jari Jurrjens delivers a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during a game in July. Jurrjens is one of six players who played at the SLWS in Bangor who have gone on to play in the major leagues. Thirty players have signed professional baseball contracts.

BANGOR — Jair Jurrjens had a productive experience at the 2002 Senior League World Series.

The righthander went 1-1 in three pitching appearances spanning 12 1/3 innings, a performance capped off by a save in the championship game as Curacao defeated Boynton Beach, Fla. 8-4 to win the first SLWS played at Mansfield Stadium.

Nine years later, the 25-year-old Jurrjens is a major league All-Star, his 12-4 record and 2.63 earned run average for the Atlanta Braves among the best in the National League despite him currently being on the disabled list with a strained knee.

“It’s kind of funny, I remember Jurrjens as the second-best pitcher on his (Curacao) team,” said Mike Brooker, tournament director of the Senior League World Series that will be held in Bangor for the 10th straight year beginning Sunday.

“He was a big, skinny kid who got the save in the championship game and had gotten a win earlier in the tournament, but he wasn’t the kid everyone was talking about.”

The scouts that year were more interested in Shairon Martis, another pitcher-infielder on the Curacao roster, and that interest proved to be well founded, as Martis went on to make his major league debut for the Washington Nationals in 2008 and is 7-4 this year for the Nationals’ Class AA Eastern League affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa.

“I don’t remember (Jurrjens) standing out,” said Dave Utterback, the current Old Town High School and Motor City of Bangor American Legion baseball coach who was the manager of the 2002 and 2004 Bangor teams that played in the Senior League World Series. “There were other guys who looked the part like Martis, (Eugene) Offerman and (former University of Maine star) Curt Smith, guys who looked like they were going to be big leaguers.

“But I looked at the box score from our game against them the other day, and Jurrjens was batting second and playing shortstop. Now he’s an all-star pitcher in the majors.”

Jurrjens and Martis are among more than 30 alumni from the Senior League World Series’ stay in Bangor who have gone on to sign professional contracts, according to Ryan Robbins, the SLWS information director.

Six of those alums have seen major league duty.

Darren Ford (Vineland. N.J., 2002), the very first batter to step to the plate during a Senior League World Series game in Bangor, was a September 2010 call-up by the world champion San Francisco Giants.

Kenley Jansen, who caught for Curacao in 2003, made his big-league debut as a relief pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, two months after Ruben Tejada (Panama, 2004) saw his first action with the New York Mets.

And perhaps the best-remembered player from previous Senior League World Series in Bangor, Domonic Brown of Dade City, Fla. (2004), currently is with the Philadelphia’s Class AAA affiliate Lehigh Valley Ironpigs after starting the season with the Phillies.

“I remember in ‘04 when we played the Florida team and Brown was the pitcher,” said Utterback. “We watched him pitch a couple of days before and throw 111 pitches, and I was thinking to myself that we wouldn’t see him two days later, but lo and behold we see him after he had pitched a complete game a couple of days before and he threw 122 pitches against us.”

Brown finished the ‘04 SLWS with a 2-1 pitching record over three complete games involving 359 total pitches, as the current 95-pitch single-game limit wasn’t instituted until several years later.

But it wasn’t all about pitching with Brown.

“I remember in the third or fourth inning when he played against us he got up and hit a ball into the gap and it turned out to be a triple but it easily could have been a home run because it seemed like he was already at second base before the ball was even picked up by the outfielder,“ said Utterback. “I just remember him being the best player I’d ever seen with my own two eyes up that close. Everything was just effortless for him.”

Brown’s only tournament setback came despite pitching a four-hitter in a 1-0 semifinal loss to Freehold Township. N.J., which went on the win the 2004 SLWS championship.

“The other thing I remember about Domonic is that he was playing baseball only because he had a couple of friends who wanted him to play,” said Brooker. “His intent at the time was to sign with Florida or Florida State as a wide receiver, but he ended up moving to Georgia and continued to play baseball and got drafted and stayed with it.”

Moving up the ladder

While those six major leaguers may not seem like an overabundance of players who have made the leap from the SLWS to the big time, consider that even the oldest of Bangor’s alumni are still not that old in baseball terms.

“The kids that were 16 in 2002 are at most 26 now, and they’re the oldest ones to have played here,” said Brooker. “There are a lot of kids in the 18-to-22-year-old range who are making their way up the ladder, and if you look at the major leagues these days, not that many kids get up there before age 24 or 25.

“There are a lot of kids working their way through that we could see in the next three or four years, and then there are a lot of younger guys coming.”

More than 20 of the pro signees with Bangor Senior League World Series experience are from Latin America, in great part because those players can be signed by pro baseball organizations at age 16 while American players cannot be signed until after high school.

“For some of these kids, occasionally — not yet this year — I get requests for a media pass from the Red Sox,” said Robbins. “They bring their scouts here because they’re interested in looking at the Latin America kids. Usually they’ve already made up their minds about who they want, but they’re also keeping an eye on some of the other 16-year-olds.”

The list of more recent up-and-comers includes Shawn Duinkerk, who as a 15-year-old was the winning pitcher in Aruba’s 8-1 victory over Bangor in last year’s Senior League World Series championship game.

Duinkerk could have been back in Bangor pitching for Aruba again this year, but he opted to sign with the Oakland Athletics organization last December shortly after he turned 16.

Two other SLWS alums from the 2008 Curacao squad, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop, played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game and are considered bright shortstop prospects by their respective organizations, the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles.

“Those kids all signed at 16 and they’re playing their Single A ball and rookie ball at 17 and 18,” said Brooker, “so if they’re progressing they might be in Triple A by the time they’re 21 or 22. Then you look at a U.S. kid, and if they go to college and aren’t drafted until after their junior year, it’s going to be a few more years before they get up to the top.”

The college route

Among the American prospects who have displayed their star power in Bangor is Kolten Wong, who led Hilo, Hawaii, to the 2007 SLWS semifinals. Wong was a 16th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins out of high school but opted to go to the University of Hawaii where as a junior he was an All-American second baseman good enough to be selected as the 22nd pick in the first round of this year’s draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wong now is playing for the Class A Quad City (Iowa) River Bandits, where he is batting .325 with four home runs, 19 RBIs and six stolen bases in 39 games since being signed.

“It was unbelievable how good he was here,” said Brooker. “You could tell that young man could hit, he was almost professional about it when he stepped into the batter’s box. You could also tell that he had been well coached, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.”

There are numerous other former SLWS stars who are making their way through college programs at all levels, some hoping to follow Wong’s path to the pros like perhaps Michael Resnick, the pitcher-infielder who led the West University Little League of Houston, Texas, to the 2009 world title.

Resnick, whose SLWS-Bangor records include home runs (4), total bases (22) and slugging percentage (1.571), will begin his college career this fall at Texas Christian University, a major college program good enough to have reached the 2010 College World Series.

“It’s hard to tell who’s going to make it right now at this age, unless maybe there’s a Latin player who can sign at 16 who’s being watched by scouts,” said Utterback. “But with a lot of the American players you don’t know about them at the time they’re here, but you find out two or three years later that they’re playing Division I.”

As for this year’s SLWS stars of the future, no one knows them yet. But like the stars of the past, they’ll begin to reveal themselves beginning Sunday afternoon on the well-manicured grass of Mansfield Stadium.

“You’re going to see amazing talent,” said Brooker. “Six kids have made the majors and you’re talking about more than 30 pro contracts so far, but more than that you’re talking about other kids who are playing in college on scholarship or others who weren’t on scholarship but still played in college. There will be some kids who can really play here, no question.”

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