By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Teams from New England and the Mid-Atlantic are gearing up on the field for the 2014 Little League Baseball Eastern Region Tournament, scheduled to kick off this Friday at the Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center.
The annual event is expected to bring thousands of guests from around the region as 12 Little League teams compete for the 2014 Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Penn. Currently, teams expected to compete include Cumberland American Little League of Rhode Island, Williston Little League of Vermont, Goffstown Junior Baseball of New Hampshire, and the West Salisbury Little League of Maryland. The Northwest Washington Little League team from Washington D.C. and Falmouth Little League of Maine also are expected to compete. Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League of Philadelphia, Penn., Colonie Little League of Albany, N.Y., and Fairfield American Little League of Fairfield, Conn. also have joined the roster of participants.
The last game is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 10 with the Mid-Atlantic Championship.
“It is an event that has left its mark in Bristol,” said Patrick Holden, assistant director of Little League’s Eastern Region in Bristol. “We’re hoping for an even better turnout this year.”
The first game begins this Friday at 11 a.m., and the tournament will kick off with a fireworks display and other festivities the night before. Two teams will make it to the World Series, which includes eight Little League teams from the U.S. and eight other teams from other countries.
“It’s every 12-year-old player’s dream to get to Williamsport,” said Don Soucy, director of Little League’s Eastern Region. “Your chances are one in 16.” “These kids will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
“This is their last step before coming to Williamsport,” added Holden. “Just making it there is a life-changing experience.”
Since 1987, Soucy said the Little League Baseball Eastern Region Tournament has brought thousands of people from different states to Bristol, adding that the longer a Connecticut team remains in the game, the longer Connecticut fans watch the tournament. He said the fans continue to come back every year for the love of watching a family-friendly game that is not over-competitive.
“It’s a pure level of amateur baseball,” said Soucy. “They play for the love of the game.”
“It’s a mixture of amateurism and the family-friendly venue,” said Holden. “They’re playing the game for all of the right reasons.”
Whether a team makes it to the World Series or not, Soucy said the important factor in making it to the final level is showing good sportsmanship and teamwork.
“We want them to make us proud, and to represent the ideals of Little League baseball,” said Soucy, adding how he has rarely seen a team that has not exhibited those Little League ideals.
A total of 10 games will be broadcast, including six games to be filmed by NESN and four games to be filmed by ESPN.
ESPN will broadcast the games from Friday, Aug. 8 to Sunday, Aug. 10, including the Mid-Atlantic Regional Semifinal games as well as the New England Regional Final and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Final. Mike Soltys, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for ESPN said the company always enjoyed featuring live games in its hometown.
“The event is a signature annual event for Bristol and we are happy to share it with a global audience,” said Soltys. “We also have given hundreds of participants over the years tours of our headquarters and received tremendous feedback on our role in making their Bristol experience special.”
“It is good for the vibrancy of the Bristol community,” added Soucy. “Little League is being televised on a worldwide network, and that should showcase the city of Bristol.”
Born and raised in Bristol, Holden said the tournament is an event Bristol can feel proud of to host every year, calling it “Bristol’s best-kept secret.”
“Bristol is a sports [community] and has been for quite some time,” said Holden, who also played baseball growing up. “I think it is something the city embraces and is really proud of.”
By LISA CAPOBIANCO