The Little League World Series has become big business over the years, with a lucrative television contract bringing all of the drama and excitement of youth baseball’s biggest showcase to a national audience each August.
And every kid who grows up playing the sport dreams of making his own memories at the annual 10-day extravaganza in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, scheduled this year for Aug. 19-29.
Six district champions will square off in Old Orchard Beach starting Saturday for the right to represent the Pine Tree State at the East Region baseball tournament Aug. 8-14 in Bristol, Connecticut. That field includes Bangor East, which went unbeaten during the recent District 3 tournament and defeated Hermon 6-4 in the championship round to qualify for states.
The Little League World Series was another victim of COVID-19 last year, as play was limited to local competition. It’s back this year in both baseball and softball, though only in the best-known Major Division for ages 11-12 and with the 2021 tournaments limited to U.S. teams instead of the traditional international fields due to the continuing pandemic.
Windham will represent Maine in the 10-team Little League East Region softball tournament that begins this weekend, also in Bristol, Connecticut.
Bangor East has drawn a first-day bye in the state tournament and will open play in the double-elimination event Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s game between District 4 champion Cumberland/North Yarmouth and District 1 winner Calais.
From left (clockwise): Bangor East coaches John Tennett and Rob Estey (left) talk to the team during practice at Taylor Field on Thursday; Bangor East Coach Rob Estey hits balls during practice Thursday at Taylor Field in preparation for their upcoming Little League State Tournament; Bangor East Coach Rob Estey hits balls during practice Thursday at Taylor Field in preparation for their upcoming Little League State Tournament. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Other teams in the field are Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (District 2), Saco (District 4) and Augusta (District 5).
Just 36 local Little Leagues around the state fielded all-star teams for district tournaments this year. Medomak Valley was the lone District 2 (midcoast) league to field an all-star team while just three leagues sought to qualify for states from District 5 (central Maine).
District 6 (Cumberland County) had the most leagues represented at its district tournament with 12, while District 3 had nine teams, District 4 (York County) tournament had seven and District 1 had four all-star teams.
“Not having anything last year, I definitely think there was a good level of excitement when we heard that all-stars were going to be in play and the district and state tournaments were going to take place this year,” Bangor East manager Jason Harvey said. “I know the boys on the team are excited about heading to the states and just competing.”
Bangor is led by pitcher-shortstop Jacoby Harvey and shortstop and leadoff batter Zac Estey along with Daxton Gifford, Owen Glanville-True, Gavin Hughes, Kaleb Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Casey Kull, Blaze Morris, Nate O’Donnell, Matt Roggero, Noah Runnells and Alex Tennett.
Assisting Jason Harvey in the dugout are coaches John Tennett and Rob Estey.
“It’s a great group and a hard-working group and a great group of parents that supports the kids,” Harvey said. “It’s great for a local group of kids to have the opportunity to do something like this at the state level and hopefully further.”
Bangor East had considerable success in the Minor Division (ages 9-10) two years ago, capturing the district title and winning two games at the 2019 state tournament.
And while all-star play was canceled in 2020, Harvey said Bangor East Little Leaguers did play an in-house schedule and some of the 2019 all-stars also played some club baseball to maintain contact with the sport in an organized fashion.
But it wasn’t quite the same, which made the return to all-star competition this summer even more eagerly awaited.
“We definitely had some success two years ago and for this group it opened their eyes a bit as far as where they are talent-wise and also what’s out there in the state,” Harvey said. “So they’re excited to have the chance to go back and compete again and continue to raise the level of play to hopefully compete for a state championship.”