BANGOR — Anniversaries typically are cause for celebration for reasons ranging from the memories they recall to a mere marketing opportunity.
If an event’s age is a multiplier of five or 10, there’s seemingly a built-in excuse to market that year’s observance as even more special than usual.
But organizers of the Senior League World Series are taking a more low-key approach to their 10th year of hosting the Little League baseball championships for 15- and 16-year-olds at Mansfield Stadium.
Players from the 2002 Maine District 3 championship Bangor Senior League All-Stars that participated in the inaugural Bangor SLWS have been invited to attend, and a representative of that team is expected to throw the ceremonial first pitch at noon Sunday before the tournament opener between this year’s Maine District 3 champions from Brewer and the Notre Dame de Glace Little League all-stars from Montreal, Quebec.
But the focus among tournament staff largely is to continue to provide the best experience they can for the visiting teams from all corners of the country and around the world.
“It’s been 10 years but it seems like we just started yesterday,” said Mike Brooker, the tournament director since the SLWS was moved to the Queen City after a 16-year stay in Kissimmee, Fla.
“I say that, but then each year gets longer, too. We’re very happy that we’ve been able to have this tournament and have it for 10 years, and as I repeatedly say I think we’re doing as good a job as any World Series outside of Williamsport (Pa.). That’s the feedback I get from other people as well, not only from Williamsport (Little League headquarters) but from other teams that have come here and have been to other places.”
Opening ceremonies for this year’s SLWS are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by five days of pool play with four games each day. The top two teams from each of the two five-team pools advance to next Friday’s semifinals, with the nationally televised championship game on ESPNU scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.
That a trip to Bangor has become the ultimate goal for Senior League players from around the globe has much to do with work done behind the scenes, Brooker said.
“We do a pretty good job,” he said, “and it’s all because of the core group of volunteers that we have. We have great people working here, we’re doing great things not only for the local kids but for kids from all over the world, and I’m just happy that we can do it.
“We just try to grow and improve each year, see what works and try to improve on that, and what doesn’t work we’re smart enough to get rid of it.”
Financial stability has been the tournament’s biggest challenge from year to year, though the event begins this seven-day run bolstered by strong attendance a year ago fueled by the host Bangor all-stars advancing to the world championship game.
“I sometimes wish that we were a little more appreciated,” Brooker said. “I still see articles in the paper about the folk festival and the Waterfront Concerts and KahBang (music festival), and I think we’re doing just as much for the local economy.”
This year’s tournament field features both familiarity and newness. Defending SLWS champion San Nicolas, Aruba, is back for the third straight August, minus its winning pitcher from last year’s final — Shawn Duinkerk, who signed the with the Oakland Athletics organization last December after turning 16 — but with several other players back from the 2010 title run.
Also back for a second straight summer is Palm Bay, Fla., with eight players boasting experience from a year ago.
Other programs with previous SLWS experience have arrived from Hilo, Hawaii, the 2003 world champion and a semifinalist in 2007, and the Rose Capital East Little League of Tyler, Texas, another 2007 semifinalist.
Other teams in the field represent Tanauan City, Philippines; Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy; Montreal, Quebec; Midland, Mich.; and Talbot County, Md.
Then there’s the host team from Brewer, which rebounded after losing in extra innings to Bangor in the 2010 Maine District 3 championship game and suffering an early loss to Bangor in this year’s district tournament to earn the program’s first trip to the SLWS as the host team since 2007.
Eleven of the 14 players on manager Roger White’s roster are 16-year-olds who have been working toward this opportunity since first playing together in the 9- and 10-year-old Little League ranks.
“It’s going to be pretty cool to play in front of this many people that we know,” said Brewer pitcher Evan Pelkey. “I’ve never done it before and I don’t know if anybody else has, but it’s going to be pretty cool.”