There is nothing in kids’ soccer, basketball or hockey that comes even remotely close to matching the baseball Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It is on a marketing level all its own in youth sport.
Crowds of up to 40,000, and TV audiences on ABC/ESPN, are part of a heady mix for any 11- or 12-year-old ball player. Yet the quest to get to Williamsport begins at the humblest of levels in neighbourhood parks around the world.
The District 7 Little League championship is underway at Hampton Park. The round-robin portion concludes today. The playoff semifinals are Saturday, with the second- and third-place teams meeting at 11 a.m. and the first- and fourth-place round-robin placers meeting at 2 p.m. The championship game is Sunday at 11 a.m.
The District 7 champion will advance to the B.C. Little League championship tournament July 20-28 at Little Mountain in Vancouver. The provincial champion will play in the Canadian Little League championship Aug. 1-10 in Ancaster, Ont. The Canadian champion will represent the country in the 2019 Little League World Series from Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport.
One of the District 7 teams has a particularly keen interest in the proceedings. Layritz will host the 2020 Canadian Little League championship and would like nothing more than to get to the provincial tournament this year, if not the national one, to get a taste of what to expect.
Not surprisingly, considering what Layritz is building toward, 12 of its players are 11 and just two are 12.
“The 11-year-olds earned their spots,” Layritz head coach Dave Potter said.
But any scrap of learning this young group can pick up this summer will be invaluable when it gets a bye directly into the nationals next year as host.
“Getting to the B.C. tournament this year, and learning from that experience, is important for us,” Potter said.
Especially since Layritz won’t play in next year’s provincial championship because of its automatic bye into the nationals.
Potter has coached at Layritz for 16 years. He began with this group as eight- and nine-year-olds as soon as it was announced that Layritz would host the 2020 nationals, and they have come up together with next year in mind.
“I feel we are good enough to make the national semifinals at our home park next year, and then it’s crapshoot from there,” Potter said.
Actually, the odds will be in the favour of host Layritz and whoever the B.C. champion team turns out to be.
Teams from B.C. have represented Canada in the Little League World Series 26 times. B.C. teams have won the Canadian championship every year since 2005 except for 2013, when East Nepean of Ottawa was the national champion.
This would appear to put Layritz within hailing distance of Williamsport in 2020 and becoming the third Island team to get there following Esquimalt-Vic West in 1974 and Gordon Head in 1999, the latter featuring former MLB player Michael Saunders.
“No team from the Island has gone in the 2000s — yet,” Potter said. “Williamsport is the goal for next year. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
This is 2019, however, and Layritz is treating the District 7 tournament this week as the first step in a two-year process.
“It’s about gaining composure and learning how to win a championship,” Potter said.
Layritz was 4-0 heading into Thursday’s game against National.
No Canadian team has won the Little League World Series. The only Canadian team to reach the final was Stoney Creek, Ont., in 1965.
Defending B.C. champion Whalley, which beat Glace Bay, N.S., 11-0 in last year’s Canadian final in Mirabel, Que., made the third round of the 2018 Little League World Series before losing 9-4 to Guayama, Puerto Rico, and finishing 2-2.
Honolulu Little League beat South Seoul Little League 3-0 in the 2018 final at Williamsport.