BANGOR, Maine — Traces of the Senior League World Series experience may be found far beyond the outfield fences of Mansfield Stadium — and well after each new champion is crowned.
Take Thursday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri, where the Cardinals hosted the Boston Red Sox.
Xander Bogaerts, who visited Bangor while helping Aruba advance to the 2009 SLWS semifinals, started at shortstop for the Red Sox. Kolten Wong, a star on the Hilo, Hawaii, team that reached the 2007 semifinals, started at second base for the Cardinals.
Wong hit two home runs that helped St. Louis secure a 5-2 victory.
Numerous SLWS alumni are making an impact on the professional ranks, something not lost among some players who will converge on Bangor this weekend to begin battling for Little League Baseball’s world championship for 14- to 16-year-olds.
“I like live (at Mansfield Stadium) in the summer pretty much and we get to see some pretty good talent,” said Brian Peirce, a catcher-outfielder for the Maine District 3 champion Bangor all-stars who will face Canadian champion Regina, Saskatchewan, at noon Sunday in the SLWS opener.
“I got to see Xander Bogaerts play, he pitched a lot here. I never got to see (Philadelphia Phillies outfielder) Domonic Brown, but I heard stories that he pitched just about every game for (Dade City, Florida, in 2004). And Kolten and (younger brother) Kean Wong (who played for Hilo in the 2011 SLWS) were both very good,” said Pierce.
What future professional baseball players, if any, emerge from this year’s weeklong event won’t be known for several years. But a 10-team field featuring entries from Canada, Curacao, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Italy, as well as five U.S. regional champions and the host Bangor squad will converge on the stadium that Stephen King built to crown a new champion and make memories.
“As a little kid I always came and watched the older guys play,” said Bangor outfielder Joey Moir. “It’s kind of like a dream come true being able to play in it. It’s going to be a really fun experience.”
This marks the 13th year the Senior League World Series has been held at Mansfield Stadium, which this year features a brand-new scoreboard and video board. There also is plush, green grass thanks to cooperative weather, the work of the stadium grounds crew and a light recent game schedule at the facility.
“Everything’s coming together as it does every year,” SLWS Executive Director Mike Brooker said. “There’s always little hitches occasionally but they’re fewer every year. I’m blessed to have so many good people who work on the World Series and it’s my job to worry but they get the stuff done.”
One source of pre-tournament intrigue this year involves the host team.
Six players on the Bangor roster — including five starters — are in Middletown, Connecticut, competing in American Legion baseball Northeast Regional.
The Bangor Legion team won its first game there, and when or if those six players rejoin the Senior League squad will depend on how the Legion team fares in its double-elimination tournament that is scheduled to continue through Monday.
The Bangor Legion team was to play Milford, Massachusetts, in a winners’ bracket game Friday afternoon. If the Comrades win the regional, they would advance to the nationals at Shelby, North Carolina, which begin next Friday.
The potential for such a roster conflict has existed since the SLWS was first played in Bangor in 2002. For the Legion program this marked its first state championship in 35 years, previously that team’s season had ended before the Senior League World Series began.
“It’s unique but it’s not really unique because it’s always been a possibility,” Brooker said. “There are always some 16-year-olds who double roster. This year it’s six kids, last year it was eight. We live in a rural area and there are just so many kids.”
“Some of those (Legion) teams in Connecticut draw from four high schools and they’re predominantly loaded with 17- and 18-year-olds. We don’t have that luxury because we don’t have that many kids in the population base so we’re always going to be double-rostered. We want kids to play hard and play to win wherever they’re playing, so congratulations to the Legion team and if they can win a regional tournament that’s just great for Bangor baseball, too,” Brooker said.
The situation leaves Bangor Senior League coach Barrett Dionne, for now, working with the 10 players he has available. Seven of them were on a Junior Legion team that went 21-3 and won a state championship this summer in its first year of competition at that level.
“All these guys are game ready,” Dionne said. “Normally these guys would have just been playing Senior League, which has kind of a short season, but the Junior Legion has helped because these guys have been playing games right up until last weekend and a lot of these guys were starters on that team.”
Dionne admitted it was challenging not knowing how his team’s roster might unfold as the Senior League World Series gets under way, particularly because with five starters not yet available it may require juggling of the batting order and shifting some players to less familiar defensive positions.
As for the players, it’s time to play.
“The best thing we can do and the only thing we can do is to go out and play our game,” said Bangor pitcher Tanner Goodine. “You can’t really worry about who’s on the field with you and who’s in the dugout. The best thing to do is to go out and play like we’ve been playing all summer.”