BANGOR, Maine — In 10 years of hosting the Senior League World Series, the Maine District 3 representative has had the luxury of watching the competition, both U.S. and international, vie for a bid to Mansfield Stadium.
That is now a thing of the past. The District 3 tournament, which will determine the tourney’s host representative for the SLWS, gets under way Saturday night.
“Historically, we have held the district tournament in the second week of July,” said Senior League World Series and District 3 tournament director Mike Brooker during a Friday press conference at Mansfield Stadium. “We found that format was not conducive to a baseball player.”
The change will now have the District 3 representative go directly from the district tournament to the World Series, which runs Aug. 11-18.
U.S. regional tournaments have traditionally taken place the week prior to the start of the SLWS, but District 3 previously had crowned its champion and tournament representative earlier than the rest of the field. The setup gave the home team a three-week layoff between the end of the district tournament and the start of the SLWS.
This year, District 3 extended the regular season, which pushed back the district tournament to coincide with the other regions’ playoffs. The District 3 team, which gains an automatic berth into the SLWS because it is the tourney host, will roll into the SLWS on limited rest, but Brooker believes the change may work to the home team’s advantage.
“You can only practice so much, so you need some game conditions,” said Brooker. “This gives the local team an opportunity to be as game conditioned as the other teams coming in.”
Brooker added that the change may cause some strain on pitching depth, but that is a disadvantage that all teams will have to overcome leading into the start of the Senior League World Series.
“You can simulate game conditions all you want in practice or with scrimmages,” said Brooker. “Neither of those poses the same level of intensity that playing against another community or team (does).”
For the players, the idea of playing back-to-back tournaments doesn’t make a difference.
“It helps us stay mentally focused throughout,” said Bangor’s Cody Collins. “Instead of a big break to allow us to get laid back, it helps us to stay in the game at all times.”
“It allows us to stay in game shape and that can only help us be more successful,” added Bangor’s Riley McKay.
Along with the change in the Maine district schedule, Brooker said the pools for the SLWS also have been altered.
“We are at a unique disadvantage here because we do not have an international and U.S. pool,” he said. “We will shake things up a bit every year, per Little League’s request, as we try to maintain competitive balance.”
The tournament features four international teams and five U.S. regional teams split between two pools. Brooker likes to maintain the organization of the pools, with two international and three regional in each one.
Three international teams from Guatemala, Italy and New Zealand have already earned a spot in the SLWS by winning their qualifying tournaments.
Brooker noted how honored he and the City of Bangor are each year to provide such a welcoming atmosphere for all participants.
“Kids from all over the world are having the time of their lives in Bangor,” he said. “They may come to compete, but they leave with a wonderful experience and life-long friendships.”
The District 3 representative will be determined among teams from Bangor, Hampden, Holbrook, Houlton, Old Town and Sebasticook, who will vie for the local crown. Brooker believes the district tournament has no clear-cut favorite and plenty of opportunity for all.
“This year’s district tournament is going to be as competitive as ever,” he said. “There may have been a couple stronger teams in the regular season, but Maine sports fans have come to know top seeds go down all the time.”
Update: This story has been updated with several corrections.