BANGOR, Maine — The international flavor of the Senior League World Series will take on an added feel this weekend with the presence of the first foreign head of state to attend the event since it was moved to Bangor a decade ago.
John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand since 2008, will be in the Queen City to watch his son Max, a member of Auckland’s Bayside Westhaven Senior League all-stars, compete in the annual world championship baseball tournament that begins Sunday at Mansfield Stadium.
SLWS executive director Mike Brooker said Key hoped for a low-profile stay in Bangor in his role as a parent and baseball fan.
Key was scheduled to leave Christchurch, New Zealand, for the United States on Thursday evening, and the New Zealand baseball contingent is expected to arrive in Bangor early Saturday morning.
Max Key is part of the New Zealand U-17 baseball team that won the Asia-Pacific Senior League championship in early July to become the first team from that nation to qualify for a World Series at any level.
The New Zealand squad went 4-1 in the seven-team Asia-Pacific regional held at Nagatna, Guam, edging the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 2-1 in its final game on July 8 to clinch its trip to Bangor.
New Zealand will open SLWS pool play at 2:30 p.m. Sunday against U.S. Southwest champion West University Little League of Houston, Texas, with subsequent games at 10 a.m. Monday against U.S. West champion Lemon Grove, Calif.; 10 a.m. Tuesday against Europe-Middle East-Africa qualifier Emilia, Italy; and at 1 p.m. Wednesday against U.S. South champion Brevard County, Fla.
Should the New Zealanders finish as one of the top two teams in their five-team pool, they would advance to the semifinals on Friday, Aug. 17.
The SLWS championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.
Prime Minister Key has planned to attend the SLWS in Bangor since his son’s team won the Asia-Pacific title, but the trip has made additional news in his home country recently because in coming to Bangor he will miss Saturday’s funeral service for two New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Lance Cpls. Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone, both 26, were shot by insurgents last weekend during a firefight in Bamyan province where they were serving with New Zealand’s Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The bodies of the two soldiers were scheduled arrive in Christchurch late Thursday night on a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft.
A spokeswoman for the prime minister said Key has visited the families of the fallen soldiers to explain why he would not attend the service.
“In the end it’s a very, very difficult decision,” Key told TVNZ. “I have got to let somebody down. But my son makes huge sacrifices for me and my job and in the final analysis I thought it was the right thing to do to go and support him.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is set to attend the funeral service in Key’s place.