Kennett-Unionville World Series squad dons new ‘East’ uniforms, gets ready for opener
BANGOR, Maine — They are no longer the KAU Kings, at least for this week.
The squad of Kennett and Unionville-area under-16 baseball players now have formally adopted the mantle of East Champions of the Senior Little League, and have new black, white and gray uniforms to prove it.
After a weather delayed 12-hour bus ride Friday, the East team settled into the headquarters hotel late Friday, and had a light workout Saturday ahead of its Sunday evening opener against Laredo, Texas. Saturday evening, though, was all about celebration, as all 10 teams in the tournament gathered with fans, friends and family at Mansfield Stadium, Saturday night. There were fireworks, a parade of teams and a celebration of the 10 teams — out of 72,000 worldwide — that reached the pinnacle of Senior League Baseball.
Saturday was also an opportunity for the players on the teams to get to know a bit about each other, trade some pins (the local kids had Mushroom Capital pins from Bove Jewelers, some from the Phillies and of course their state, regional and sectional pins to trade) and learn about places outside of the country. While they had a few tales to tell about a rain-soaked drive north Friday, they couldn’t compare to the travel stories of the Canadian and Hawaiian teams, both of which have basically been on a three-week road trip.
“Our boys are learning about the beliefs, cultures and ways of life of the other teams,” said coach Mike Pechin. “I think they are getting a good dose of reality about how good they have it where they live. I definitely see that this a humbling and gratifying experience for them to understand just how lucky they are.”
As one might expect in feeding 10 teams of hungry teens, the food tents ere a busy place, as the teams chowed down on steak and seafood Newburg for dinner.
“We literally are breaking bread with the same teams we’ll be opposing on the field,” Pechin said. “That is taking some getting used to.”
The atmosphere is, well, a bit intense. Getting some of the ceremony out of the way — a day before actual play starts — is probably a good thing, Pechin said.
“The boys are on emotional overload,” he said. “They are like wide-eyed kids in a candy store. If they were peacocks, they’d be strutting with their tail feathers wide open. There is just so much emotion. We couldn’t play a game today. The team wouldn’t be able to concentrate.”
With a day under their belts, East should be able to buckle down and get ready to face the Southwest Champs. Not much is known about them, but they appear to thrive on pitching, speed and defense.
“We don’t know much about them,” Pechin said. “They are not a big team, but they are fast. They must play great defense and have good pitching because they gave up only one run during their regional.”
NOTES: The East team is monitoring the internet to follow the progress of their District 28 neighbors, the Lionville Little Leaguers, in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Little League World Series, and as on Sunday morning, were one win of making it to the World Series in Williamsport.
“Obviously we’re hoping they make it to the World Series, too,” said Pechin.
Despite heavy rains, Mansfield Stadium is in top shape — and appears to be a top-flight facility, the coaches say.
The stadium was built in 1991 with funding provided by best-selling author Stephen King. The stadium is dedicated to Shawn Trevor Mansfield a family friend of Stephen King who died after a long fight with cerebal palsy before he had a chance to play America’s pastime. King’s home is behind a grove of trees in right field. He has been known to stop by on occasion to watch a game.
Aside from the aesthetic beauty of this stadium and first class drainage, this looks very much like a Major League field with dimensions of 330 down the lines, 375 in the alleys, and 405 to center field, according coach Chris Jarmuz, who offered a scouting report on the field.
“Compared to the earlier rounds of play on somewhat smaller fields, this SLWS should be a great opportunity for KAU outfielders to showcase their outstanding arms and gloves,” Jarmuz said. ” At the same time, as home runs may be few, it will be interesting to see how many doubles or even triples are hit throughout the series.”
On a related note, since the SLWS has been hosted in Bangor in 2002, more than 1,300 players went on to play professionally, with seven making it to the major leagues including Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada and and Phillies’ outfielder Domonic Brown.
There was rain all day Friday, “but Mansfield Stadium is in top-notch condition. It is stunning, the most beautiful field we’ve ever played on,” Pechin said. “The seats in the grandstand wrap around behind home plate and down the baselines. In the outfield there is a large hill where people sit to watch the games, just like at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.”