BANGOR, Maine — It’s been a long, busy baseball season for many of the Bangor Senior League all-stars.
High school practices began in late March, followed by games throughout the spring and then either Senior League or American Legion baseball schedules — or both for more than half the players involved — that ended just this week with the Legion team finishing third at the state tournament and the Senior League squad winning the Maine District 3 title.
“It’s been a really long season, the longest season I’ve had starting with high school practice back when it was 45 degrees out to now,” said Bangor shortstop Kyle Stevenson. “It’s been long and hard, but it’s been worth it.”
Much of that satisfaction stems from the knowledge that with the Maine District 3 Senior League crown comes a chance for Bangor to square off against some of the best 15- and 16-year-old players on the planet as the host team for the Senior League World Series, which returns to Mansfield Stadium for the 12th consecutive year beginning with opening ceremonies Saturday night.
“It’s a great opportunity to have all these great teams come to your home field in your home town and maybe even have the chance to play against them,” said Bangor pitcher-shortstop Justin Courtney.
“There are people who have played here that have gone on to play in the MLB [Major League Baseball], and to say that I played them in the Senior League World Series will be a great feeling. I can’t wait to get started.”
Bangor will be Maine District 3’s SLWS entry for the eighth time since the event was moved from Kissimmee, Fla., to the Queen City in 2002 but for the first time in three years — a fact that accentuated the stress level at what SLWS executive director Mike Brooker calls “the most intense district tournament in Senior League baseball.”
Bangor went undefeated in four District 3 tournament games, including two one-run victories over Bronco Little League of Hampden, last year’s local SLWS representative.
That second win, a 3-2 decision Tuesday night in the championship round, provided the Bangor players a sense of both celebration and relief.
“All of us have wanted to play in this since we were little,” said pitcher-outfielder Trevor DeLaite. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Bangor’s roster includes two pitchers in Courtney and DeLaite who already have made verbal commitments to play Division I college baseball at the University of Maine once they graduate from Bangor High School, Courtney in 2014 and DeLaite in 2016.
Other veterans of Bangor’s deep run in the state American Legion tourney — the Comrades finished with a 26-5 record after falling by a run in the ninth inning of what essentially was a semifinal against eventual state champion Windham — are Stevenson, Andrew Hillier, Sam Huston, Ben Crichton, Ryan Brookings and James Prescott, while Jordan Derrah, Alec Coleman-Pray, Jon Stanhope, Nick Moore, Ryan Moore, Andrew Elston, Dennis Farnham and Brian Pierce also play key roles on the Senior League squad.
“We had a real busy schedule for Legion, playing almost every day,” said DeLaite. “But then winning here in Senior League definitely gives us a second wind because we’re so excited to play. We’re re-energized and ready to go.”
The team took Wednesday off after the District 3 final and then planned a light workout Thursday after spending much of the morning assisting SLWS organizers with tourney preparations at the stadium.
“A lot of these guys have played a lot of baseball so I’m at the point now where I’d like to see them get some rest,” said Bangor head coach Barrett Dionne, whose team will open SLWS pool play against Canada at noon Sunday. “But at the same time it’s nice to get together like we are today to get that camaraderie going.”
Where this team dreams such camaraderie leads is to a feat similar to what Bangor’s 2010 team accomplished. That year Bangor rallied past 2009 world champion West University Little League of Houston, Texas, during the final day of pool play to qualify for the semifinals, then upset previously unbeaten Manhattan Beach, Calif., to reach the nationally televised world championship game.
Bangor lost in the final to San Nicolas, Aruba, but the memory of that run is a motivational source for many on the 2013 squad who watched those games from the grandstand.
“It’s definitely been on my bucket list for a while,” said Courtney. “Growing up here and seeing the World Series every year and watching the 2010 team when I was a year away from playing Senior League, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really want to do that,’ and now it’s pretty exciting to finally get here and have a chance to experience it all.”
“And who knows, maybe we can do it, too, since it’s been done by the local kids. I’ve played with some of the kids who were on that team, so why can’t we do it?”
Dionne similarly is hopeful his team will be successful on this world stage next week, but he also wants his players to enjoy the experience.
“It’s a privilege to be able to come here and play against these teams,” he said. “I keep telling the kids to take advantage of this opportunity and cherish the moment. I know this is something I would have loved to do in when I was in Senior League.”