BANGOR, Maine — Somewhere in Justin Courtney’s house is a baseball he had with him five years ago as a young fan at the 2008 Senior League World Series.
On that baseball is the signature of one of the stars of that year’s Little League Baseball world championship tournament for 15- and 16-year-olds, an event held since 2002 at Mansfield Stadium.
Both autograph seeker and his target have come a long way during the ensuing half-decade.
Courtney will get his chance to play in the Senior League World Series beginning at noon Sunday when Maine District 3 champion Bangor squares off against Canada.
As for the target, Jurickson Profar already is in the major leagues as a starter for the Texas Rangers.
“He signed a baseball for me when he was here,” said Courtney, who has a bright baseball future of his own after verbally committing to play at the University of Maine once he graduates from Bangor High School next June. “I don’t remember how old I was but he was playing soccer with his team on the side and I went up and said, ‘Are you Jurickson Profar?’ and he signed a ball for me.
“I still have it somewhere, and it’s pretty cool that now he’s playing for the Rangers. It’s so cool to think that the shortstop from whatever team that comes here that you play against someday might be in the major leagues. You never know.”
Profar, who played for Curacao in the 2008 SLWS, is one of at least eight Senior League World Series alumni from the tournament’s Bangor era who have made it to the major leagues.
And those among that elite group currently with big-league clubs boast some impressive credentials.
Profar has fast-tracked his way to big leagues. After being regarded as the minor leagues’ top prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com, he’s now a regular in the Rangers’ lineup at shortstop, second base, the outfield or designated hitter — and he’s only 20.
Kenley Jansen, a catcher for the Curacao team that represented Latin America in the 2003 SLWS, was converted to relief pitcher in 2009 and now is the closer for the high-flying Los Angeles Dodgers.
Through Wednesday’s action, Jansen is 4-3 with a 2.04 earned run average and 17 saves for the Dodgers, currently leading NL West.
And the best of the bunch this season is 25-year-old Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, a 2004 SLWS star for Dade City, Fla., who earned a National League All-Star berth and currently is batting .271 with 24 home runs and 71 RBIs.
Brown more than any other former Senior League World Series player sparked “can’t-miss” conversations during his week in Bangor after going 9 for 17 at the plate and compiling a 2-1 record as a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher for the U.S. South champions — including one complete-game four-hitter in Dade City’s 1-0 semifinal loss to eventual SLWS champion Freehold Township, N.J., and another four-hitter in an 8-4 pool-play victory over Bangor.
“He was consistently at 92 or 93 on the gun as a 16-year-old,” said current Bangor Senior League head coach Barrett Dionne, an assistant coach under Dave Utterback on the city’s 2004 SLWS qualifier.
“At the time you could see that he was so far ahead of everybody else, and I think he was being recruited pretty hard by Florida State [and the University of Miami] to play football. He was one of those guys that you knew was going to end up in the pros whether it was baseball, basketball or football.”
Other major leaguers who visited Bangor to play in the Senior League World Series en route to the big time include infielder Freddy Galvis of Falcon, Venezuela (2006 SLWS), the opening-day starter at second base for Philadelphia in both 2012 and 2013 who currently is with the Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley, Pa.; and pitcher Jair Jurjjens of Curacao (2002), a 2011 National League All-Star with the Atlanta Braves now trying to battle back from a string of injuries with the Detroit Tigers’ Class AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens.
“We’ve always said that you’re going to see the best 15- and 16-year-old baseball talent in the world here,” said SLWS executive director Mike Brooker. “I firmly believe that and I think the number of kids who are now young adults and are playing in the majors or the high minor leagues reflects that.”
And the ascension to major league status of former Senior League World Series standouts doesn’t figure to abate anytime soon.
Two of the minor leagues’ top prospects, Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox and Kolten Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals, are expected to be promoted to their parent clubs before the end of the season.
And especially in Bogaerts’ case, that promotion may be imminent.
The 20-year-old Bogaerts, a pitcher-shortstop for the 2009 SLWS team from San Nicolas, Aruba, is batting .275 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs in 49 games with Class AAA Pawtucket this summer after hitting .311 in 56 games with the Class AA Portland Sea Dogs to open the season.
The power-hitting Bogaerts is seen in many quarters as the Red Sox’ shortstop-in-waiting, though at 6-foot-3 inches, 185 pounds he also is being projected as a corner infielder or outfielder in Boston.
“I would like to think that Red Sox Nation, particularly Mainers, are excited about that,” said Brooker. “There’s a World Series alumnus that soon is going to be playing in Fenway Park, and it’s a great story with a great family.
“He and his brother [Jair], who also was signed by the Red Sox, were raised by a single mom and I remember the story written about them saying that the boys didn’t play baseball until their school work and chores were done each day, and now Xander’s potentially the next superstar for the Red Sox.”
Wong, a catcher from Hilo, Hawaii, which represented the U.S. West in the 2007 Senior League World Series, was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2011 after starring at the University of Hawaii.
He’s currently batting .303 with eight home runs, 39 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds, and like Bogaerts played in last month’s Futures All-Star Game.
Wong has been projected as a September call-up by St. Louis.
“I was amazed with his bat speed and bat control when he was here,” said Brooker. “Those Hawaii teams from Hilo that were here (in 2006 and 2007) could hit. Kolten’s father, who was the coach, really taught those kids to hit. They had pretty swings and they attacked the baseball.”
That most of the SLWS alumni who have made it to the major leagues are from international teams — with Brown the primary exception to date — stems from the fact that those players can be signed at a younger age than American prospects.
“The international players have a step up because they get there a little earlier, and that’s who the scouts come here to see because they can be signed as free agents at age 16,” Brooker said.
“A lot of them do sign then and come to the states and continue their education but at the same time get paid to play baseball, too. The U.S. kids have to wait until they’ve graduated high school, and then the good players have the option of going to college as opposed to taking the money right then.”
But no matter the players’ birthplaces, the opportunity to see some legitimate big-league prospects is likely a major part of the Senior League World Series’ appeal to its fans, while testing their skills against that talent surely is a significant part of the event’s appeal to local players.
“It’s awesome to get this chance,” said Bangor Senior League pitcher-outfielder Trevor DeLaite. “I always want to play the best competition. I always want to play against the best players I can play against.”