The return of Senior League baseball’s U.S. East Regional tournament to Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium will have to wait at least one more year.
Little League recently announced that due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, its regional and World Series tournament play this summer will be limited to its major (ages 10-12) divisions in baseball and softball.
Among reasons cited were the inability to provide adequate coronavirus testing for qualifying teams around the country, as well as the additional responsibilities that would be placed on the volunteers who run those tournaments.
“Little League determined that with the other 25 regional sites there was no way that they could ask volunteers to follow the stringent protocols that will be in place,” said Mike Brooker, Maine District 3 Little League administrator and a member of the Little League International Advisory Board.
The organization’s teenage divisions, consisting of intermediate 50/70 baseball and Junior League and Senior League baseball and softball, all will conclude competition this summer at the state level.
Those decisions were based on the recommendation of the 2021 Little League International Pandemic Response Advisory Commission and approved by the Little League International board of directors.
Maine District 3 Little League hosted baseball’s Senior League World Series for ages 14-16 at Mansfield Stadium from 2002 through 2016 before the event was moved to Easley, South Carolina.
The Bangor locale subsequently was selected to host the SLWS U.S. East Regional beginning in 2019. However, that 10-team, double-elimination event — whose winner earns a berth in the Senior League World Series — now has been canceled for the second straight year.
This year’s U.S. East regional had been scheduled for July 21-28.
Little League regional tournaments and World Series are awarded to sites annually, but Brooker is confident the Senior League’s U.S. East Regional will be back in the Queen City next year provided current health concerns are alleviated.
“I was told by the regional director when we took it three years ago that it was their intention to keep it here because they knew we had people in place and they knew about the facility and they were happy it was going to be here for a significant period of time,” Brooker said.
Even the Little League World Series for baseball and softball that will be held this year will be different as there will be no international divisions due to travel issues.
The baseball event at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, will be limited to 16 U.S. teams, the top two finishers from each of eight regionals. The softball LL World Series in Greenville, North Carolina, will have just 10 teams, the top two from each of the five U.S. regions.
The New England regional for major baseball and the East regional for major softball are held at Bristol, Connecticut.
Participants in both the regionals and World Series will be housed in dormitories, eat in dining commons and be subject to frequent COVID-19 testing. Spectators will be limited to family members and a small number of people associated with the participating teams.
The World Series for major baseball is the big prize in Little League’s ongoing television relationship with ESPN. The two parties agreed last August to an eight-year contract extension through 2030 that will begin after their existing eight-year, $76 million deal ends next year.
“I was confident they were going to do whatever they could do to play the 11- and 12-year-old tournament,” Brooker said. “They need that ESPN money and even if they push it out and put [this year] on the end of the contract, the $12 million they would get this year is probably going to be worth significantly more than that in 2028 or ’29.”
Little League baseball and softball is getting underway in Maine after being limited to some local play in 2020.
Brooker said Maine District 3, which ranges from the Newport-Pittsfield area to Aroostook County, will hold district championship tournaments for minor (ages 8-10), age 11, major (10-12) and Junior League baseball divisions and for major softball and, possibly, minor softball.
State tournaments will be held in the major baseball and softball ranks as the winners will advance to the New England regional. Brooker said the state’s district administrators have not yet made a final determination about holding state tournaments at the other levels, citing some current reluctance to travel or host those events.