Virgin Island all-stars qualify for Junior League World Series in Taylor

A new representative of Latin America will debut in the Junior League World Series in Taylor.

St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands won the Latin America regional tournament played last week in Panama City, Panama. The Elrod Hendricks West Little League all-stars of St. Thomas defeated the Dominican Republic, 9-7, in Saturday’s championship game.

Virgin Islands becomes only the third different representative in the Junior League World Series since the Latin America region was formed in 2001. Teams from Venezuela and Panama have represented the region three years apiece.

A team from Venezuela – the only team from South America to play in the series – lost to the Virgin Islands team in a semifinal game on Friday. A team from Panama is the only team from Central America to play in the series and, in fact, win the series (2005).

The national champions from the Latin American nations of Puerto Rico and Mexico receive an automatic berth in the World Series every other year. The odd team out – this year it was Mexico – can still qualify for the series by winning the Latin America region. But Mexico – which played in the finals in Taylor a year ago – did not advance from pool play this year.

Puerto Rico will be represented in the series this year by the Rademes Lopez Little League of Guayama. Teams from Puerto Rico have won the world championship five times. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first time a team from Puerto Rico played in Taylor.

The other teams debuting this year in the series come from the Philippines (Asia-Pacific region winner) and the Ukraine (representing Europe, the Middle East and Africa).

Greg Bzura, founder and director of the Junior League World Series, said new teams coming to Taylor shows growth in the 13- and 14-year-old division of Little League International.

“That’s something we really like,” Bzura said. “It shows growth. If you remember the growing days, we would get Kaiserslautern (in Germany) year after year (representing the European region). Now we get Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine. We almost got England last year and this year.

“For many years in a row, Saipan represented Asia-Pacific. This year, we’ve got the Philippines, which beat Hong Kong in the finals. That’s just growth. I love it.”

The 27th annual World Series in Taylor takes place August 12-18 at Heritage Park. Opening ceremonies are the evening of August 11.

Five teams compete in round-robin action in the International pool. Four teams have qualified. The fifth – the national champion of Canada – will be determined during a tournament that starts Friday in Windsor, Ontario.

The other five teams compose the USA pool. State champions in the western United States play in the West regional tournament, which began yesterday in Beaverton, Oregon.

Three regional tourneys get under way Friday: the East in Freehold Township, New Jersey; the Southwest in Grand Junction, Colorado; and the Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The fifth USA regional tournament, the South, starts Saturday in Cartersville, Georgia.

Four games are played daily August 12-16. The top two teams in each pool play for the USA and International championships on August 17. The winners play for the world championship on August 18. That game is shown by ESPN.

For the schedule, history and a photo gallery of the Junior League World Series, visit www.cityoftaylor.com/worldseries.

NOTEBOOK: Elrod Hendricks, for whom the St. Thomas Little League is named, played Major League baseball from 1968 to 1979.

A catcher, Hendricks started and ended his career with the Baltimore Orioles and played briefly with the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees. After his playing days, he went on to coach in Baltimore. A fan favorite, “Ellie” wore the Orioles’ uniform for 37 years.

He died in 2005 just hours before his 65th birthday.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, 10 players from the Virgin Islands have played in the Majors. The others are Jerry Browne, Joe Christopher, Horace Clarke, Henry Cruz, Midre Cummings, Al McBean, Jose Morales, Calvin Pickering and Elmo Plaskett.