BANGOR, Maine — After 15 years as a climaxing staple of the summer baseball season in eastern Maine, the Senior League World Series is being moved to Easley, South Carolina.
Little League International announced the change Friday afternoon as part of a restructuring of the older divisions of its Little League baseball and softball franchise that includes the discontinuation of the Big League division for 17- and 18-year-olds and capping participation in the Little League program at age 16.
As part of the restructuring, Little League International opted to relocate the Senior League Baseball World Series — the championship tournament for 14- through 16-year-olds — from Bangor to Easley, which previously served as the home of the Big League Baseball World Series.
“We did a pretty deep assessment of the two locations, Bangor and Easley, and I have to tell you in all candor that this was one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve had to make in my 37 years with Little League,” said Stephen D. Keener, Little League president and chief executive officer.
The move ultimately was made for logistical and financial reasons involving the transportation of teams from throughout the United States and around the world to the World Series site and housing once they arrived in the host city.
“When reviewing both locations, Easley offers dormitory housing with support from Clemson University and is a more central location with easier transportation options for all participants, families and fans,” said Keener. “This was an extremely difficult decision given that both sites have fantastic facilities and volunteers that support our tournaments.”
Mike Brooker, who has served as the Senior League World Series executive director since the tournament was moved to Bangor from Kissimmee, Florida, in 2002, was notified of the move by Keener shortly after noon Friday, and he acknowledged the reasons behind Little League’s decision.
“It cost them much more to send teams to Bangor than it does to Easley,” he said, “and our housing costs are also more in Bangor.
“The thing with Easley is they’re within an hour and a half of Greenville, South Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Those are all three bigger airports with more flights and bigger planes, and it’s much easier to get teams there,” he said.
Those airports provide qualifying teams much more direct routes to the tournament site in South Carolina, Keener said.
“This year we had one team come into Bangor, and that was the Europe [team] that overflew Bangor from Amsterdam to Chicago and then flew back to Bangor,” said Brooker. “We had one team that came into Portland, and then we had to make six Boston runs. You just can’t get into Bangor, and it hurt us.”
Keener said another factor was the presence of two baseball fields at the Easley complex amid the possibility that Little League will look in the future to expand its offerings in the Intermediate, Junior and Senior League divisions.
“As those age divisions of our program continue to grow, our intention is to try to give more kids the opportunity to have a World Series experience,” said Keener. “I don’t know when that will happen, but that’s certainly in our future considerations, and with all that in mind, it makes more sense for us to stay in Easley.
“There wasn’t anything wrong in Bangor,” Keener added. “Mike and his folks have done a great job, and it’s just so hard to disappoint good people and people who have given so much to this, but at the end of the day, we had to make a decision that we believe is in the best long-term interest of our program.”
Brooker said he got his first inkling that changes were afoot in the older divisions of Little League baseball and softball in March during a Little League East Regional roundtable meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He said he had no inkling that Bangor’s future as host of the Senior League World Series would be at issue.
“At that time there were discussions about changing the teenage divisions,” Brooker said. “I was pretty confident they were going to get rid of a division, but what I thought they were going to do was put 13-year-olds into the Intermediate 50/70 division, make Senior League 14-15-16 and make Big League 16-17-18 with 16-year-olds having a swing year where they could play either.
“That still would have resulted in a World Series site no longer being needed, but I did not think that we were anywhere close to being on the radar to be the site that was going to be affected,” he said.
“I only knew today at 12:15 [p.m.] that we were the ones that was the odd site out,” he said.