BANGOR, Maine — More than 72,000 Senior League baseball teams from around the globe compete each summer with the ultimate goal of winning a world championship.
That journey begins with local competition in more than 4,800 different leagues.
Senior League World Series executive director Mike Brooker of Bangor suggests annually that none of those other local tournaments have as much at stake as the seven-team Maine District 3 event that begins Saturday at Mansfield Stadium.
While the rest of the local tourneys are merely one early stage of a multi-tiered effort to represent their town, their district, their state and their region in the annual Little League baseball championship for players ages 14 through 16, the Maine District 3 playdown provides a direct means to the end — an automatic berth as the host team for the SLWS, which will return to the Queen City for the 12th consecutive year Aug. 11-17.
“It’s probably the most intense district tournament in Senior League,” said Brooker during a press conference Friday afternoon to announce plans for this year’s District 3 tournament and World Series.
For many coaches and players involved, the reality of being just one double-elimination tournament success away from a chance to test themselves against the best of the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe and Africa in three weeks represents both pressure and opportunity.
“For me, right now I kind of think of it as intense because Bangor is normally expected to win this [district] tournament and we haven’t in the past two years,” said Bangor Senior League manager Barrett Dionne. “So there’s a lot of pressure on me as a coach and on the players as well.”
Bangor has represented District 3 in seven of the previous 11 World Series held at Mansfield Stadium, including in 2010 when the local entry went 3-1 in pool play and ultimately advanced to the nationally televised world championship before being defeated by a team from San Nicolas, Aruba.
But Brewer represented the district in the SLWS in 2011 and a Hampden-area team won the District 3 crown last summer, leaving the largest community in the district anxious to return to the big show this year and its challengers fully aware of what is within their reach.
“Most of these guys as young kids grow up dreaming of playing in this World Series,” said Dionne. “Players from last year who didn’t make it to the World Series their two years in Senior League are never going to get that chance again and they feel bad about it.
“But the kids we have on the team now have same dream to make it, and they’ve had it for a long time.”
Bangor looms as one of the favorites in the district, with eight players on its roster also part of an American Legion baseball team that is one victory away from a trip to the state tournament at that level.
But among the other teams hoping to break through for its turn on the international stage is a confident Holbrook club.
“I agree with Barrett, the pressure’s always on Bangor,” said Holbrook manager Karl Ward. “From our perspective, we’ve got a very, very good team this year and we expect to do very, very well. We went though a very long season, we played everybody multiple times and we did not lose a single game.
“We’ve been getting ready for two months for this weekend, but at the same time we’re eager and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
The District 3 tournament begins with three games Saturday. Bangor plays Sebasticook (Pittsfield-Newport) at 1 p.m., followed by Brewer against Holbrook at 4 p.m. and Old Town against Hampden at 7.
Houlton, the seventh team in the district, drew an opening-day bye and will make its tourney debut against the Bangor-Sebasticook winner at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The tournament continues through a championship round of either one or two games Tuesday evening, with the District 3 winner slated to begin SLWS play at noon Sunday, Aug. 11, against the Canadian champion.
Three teams already have earned berths in this year’s 10-team Senior League World Series — Makati City, Philippines, representing Asia-Pacific; Emilia, Italy, representing Europe and Africa; and Chitre, Herrera, Panama, representing Latin America.
The Canadian champion will be crowned in early August, as will U.S. champions from the East, Southeast, Central, Southwest and West regions.
The 10 qualifiers will be divided into two five-team pools, with the Maine District 3/Canada game kicking off five days of pool play.
The top two teams in each pool advance to the single-elimination semifinals on Friday, Aug. 16, followed at 2 p.m. on Aug. 17 by the world championship game to be televised on ESPNU.