History of the Junior League Baseball World Series
Congratulations to the Rockledge Little League of Rockledge, Florida, the 2012 champion of the Junior League Baseball World Series played each August in Taylor, Michigan.
The 33rd annual Junior League Baseball World Series will be played August 11-17, 2013, at World Series Field in beautiful Heritage Park in Taylor, Michigan – the only place the prestigious event has been held.
The Junior League World Series is a spectacular weeklong international tournament for the best teams of 13- and 14-year-old baseball players from around the world. Founded in 1981, the Junior League World Series is the “older brother” of the Little League World Series held annually in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the best teams of 12-year-olds.
Like the Little League World Series, the Junior League World Series has a storied history. The Junior League World Series began as a tournament for the best teams of 13-year-old players. It blossomed to include 14-year-olds and now attracts teams from around the globe: from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region, Canada and, of course, the United States.
To date, teams have come from 29 different states in the U.S., four Canadian provinces, Aruba, Belgium, Chinese Taipei, Curacao, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Guam, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Saipan, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Ukraine and Venezuela.
A number of current or past professional baseball players played for teams in the Junior League World Series before making it as stars in the big leagues. They include. Gary Sheffield, Eric Bedard, Brett Myers, brothers Jose and Javier Valentin, Erubiel Durazo, Chad Hermansen, Derek Bell, Delino DeShields, Shannon Withem, Adam Loewen and Chris Brock. Sheffield and Bell were teammates on the Belmont Heights team from Tampa, Florida, that won the Junior League world championship in 1982. Some future major leaguers may be on the rosters in 2013.
Other future stars to play in Taylor have included Chris Dingman and Steve Reinprecht, Junior League teammates in 1989 with Edmonton, Alberta, who went on to play in the National Hockey League. Matt Cassel (Northridge, California, 1995) is a quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. Mark “Bo” Pelini, a member of the 1981 champions from Boardman, Ohio, went on to play safety for Ohio State University’s football team and is now head football coach at the University of Nebraska. Another football star was Andy Mignery (Hamilton, Ohio, 1994), former tight end at the University of Michigan.
The Largest Youth Sports Program
Little League International is the largest youth sports program in the world. Founded in 1939, Little League was granted a federal charter on July 16, 1964, by unanimous act of the Senate and House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States. It was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Little League is played in more than 100 countries of the world and is played by more than three million boys and girls.
In 1939, Little League was only available for players who were 12 years old and younger. In 1961, Little League was expanded to include 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds. This new division was called Senior League. In 1968, Little League again expanded to include 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. This was called Big League.
In 1979, recognizing the significant adjustment experienced by 13-year-olds when faced with bigger field dimensions – plus the disadvantage they faced against older players – Little League created the Junior League division for 13-year-olds.
Two years later, Greg Bzura and a group of baseball enthusiasts from Taylor volunteered their community as the host site for the first Junior League World Series. At that time, the championship was called the "13-year-old World Series." The event has been staged in Taylor ever since. Bzura, a retired banker and former Taylor councilman, continues as director.
Teams qualify for the Junior League World Series by winning a state, regional or national tournament. The first game of the World Series is usually played 21 days prior to Labor Day. The world champion is determined on the final day of the exciting week of baseball. The championship game is broadcast live by the ESPN family.
Games are played on World Series Field, which is custom-designed to accommodate 13- and 14-year-old ballplayers. The field is too big for 12-year-olds; generally too small for 15-year-olds. World Series Field is located in the southeast section of Heritage Park. The park is located on Pardee Road between Goddard and Northline roads.
In the Beginning
In 1981, the first year of the Junior League World Series, only the four regional championship teams from the United States made the journey to Taylor. Boardman, Ohio, won the first Junior League world championship, besting teams from Richmond, Virginia; Gloucester County, New Jersey; and Bassett, California.
Since then, world championship teams have come from Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, California, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Curacao and Chinese Taipei – which entered a team for the first time in 2010 and won the Junior League title.
Tampa became the first team from Florida to win the World Series in 1982, the year Puerto Rico joined the World Series as the fifth regional representative. Puerto Rico became world champion the next year. The 1983 series was called "the year of the home run" because of the record-breaking number of four-baggers. The fences were moved to 250 feet in left and right fields and 285 in center field.
In 1984, Pearl City became the first Junior League world champion from Hawaii. The next year, 1985, Florida became the first state to win two world championships. A team from Michigan joined the series as a seeded entry that year and would play every year through the rest of the decade. Lights were installed in 1985 and night games debuted. Outfield fences were extended to 270 feet in left, 275 in right and 310 in center.
In 1986, Mexico joined the series for the first time. Bill DeAtley helped Maryland to the championship, though, by pitching the first no-hitter of the series. In 1987, Jenny Hall of the Taylor Northwest Little League became the first girl to play in the event. That year, Rowland Heights became the first team from California to win the JLWS.
A Little League Miracle
In 1988, tragedy struck just 93 days prior to the series when the original press box/dugout building was destroyed by fire. What occurred after that has been called a "Little League miracle." Volunteers came forward with time, energy and talent. Thousands of dollars in donations came from local corporations, district administrators, World Series alumni umpires and Little Leaguers everywhere. The City of Taylor donated architectural, legal and guidance services.
After 64 days of planning, raising money and installing sewers, there were just 29 days to rise from the ashes. With the players arriving for the eighth annual World Series, the backstop was installed and the next day, the series started on schedule.
That year, Mexico won the series for the first time and a team from Quebec became the first Canadian entry in the tournament.
In 1989, Manati, Puerto Rico, became the first repeat champion. In 1990, a team from Puerto Rico won for the third time – the first time a regional champion won back-to-back world titles.
In 1990, the Kaiserslautern Military Community of Germany became the first European team to compete in the series. Since then, teams from Belgium, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Italy have represented the region, which is now known as Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA), but no country has been represented more than Germany, which has played in Taylor nine times in 20 years.
In 1991, the city of Spring became the first Texas team to win the World Series. The next year, 1992, saw Tucson become the first Arizona team to win the championship.
In 1993, Puerto Rico won the World Series for the fourth time, defeating Mexico in the first of only two years that a team from the United States was not involved in the championship game (1999 was the other). In 1993, the Goodyear Blimp circled the field and delighted the crowd with a "Good Luck Junior League World Series" message in lights.
In 1994, a team from Thousand Oaks, California, won the world title. Notable that year was that Thousand Oaks native Sparky Anderson – the manager of the Major League baseball Detroit Tigers – visited World Series Field to watch his hometown team play.
Also in 1994, the Junior League World Series Alumni Club debuted with an impressive membership registration of 356 people. In 1995, the Alumni Club Pavilion was built near the field, using alumni funds and volunteer labor. In 1996, the Northwest 45 Little League from Spring, Texas, became the first U.S. Little League to win a second Junior League championship.
Improvements on the field continued in 1997 when right field was rebuilt to correct drainage problems of the past. Asphalt paving beneath the bleacher seating and the connecting roadways further improved the appearance and fan comfort.
The Thrill of Victory
Thrilling championship games have become a hallmark of the Junior League World Series. The 1998 world champion was from the South Mission Viejo Little League from California, which won a dramatic final-day doubleheader against the Midway Little League from Waco, Texas. Ashton White, son of former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, was one of the top players for California.
In 1999, two major changes took place. For the first time, the Junior League expanded to include older players: 14-year-olds. The expansion led to the first-time participation in the World Series by a team from the Far East region, Guam, and would allow for more nations to compete in regional tournaments worldwide. That Far East region would eventually expand and be renamed the Asia-Pacific region.
The 1999 champion was the Hermanos Cruz Little League of Arroyo, Puerto Rico, which defeated a team from Amistad y Deporte Little League in Hermosillo,Sonora, Mexico, 1-0, in the final game of the World Series. It was the fifth time a team from Puerto Rico won the Junior League world championship, but the first title for Arroyo.
In 2000, a team from Canada – Langley, British Columbia – made it to the finals for the first time. However, Aiea took home the world title to Hawaii for the first time in 16 years.
Expansion and Growth
Prior to 2001, only two Latin America nations – Mexico and Puerto Rico – were interested in competing for the Junior League title and, rather than hold a Latin America tournament, national champions from both countries were invited to Taylor. In 2001, Latin America for the first time held a regional tournament in Freeport, Grand Bahamas, which attracted eight nations: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Aruba, Panama, Curacao, Bahamas and Virgin Islands. Venezuela defeated Mexico for the Latin American regional championship.
Worldwide growth continued in 2001, 14 teams competed for the European regional championship. Poland headed to Taylor as the European champ, defeating Germany in the title game. In the regional, there were two teams from Germany (an American military base and a native team) and individual teams from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Romania, Saudi Arabia and Spain.
The 2001 World Series marked the first time a team from South America played in Taylor – and Maracaibo, Venezuela, made it to the finals. That year also marked the debut for teams from Poland and Saipan.
Aiea, Hawaii, made history in 2001, becoming the first team to win back-to-back world championships in the Junior League. In 2001, Aiea defeated Venezuela, 6-5, in a thrilling, come-from-behind contest that was won in the bottom of the eighth inning. The year before, Aiea defeated Langley, British Columbia, Canada, in the finals, 2-1. Hawaiian teams have won the world title three times.
The World Comes to Taylor
The year 2001 marked two other significant changes in the World Series. For the first time, the championship game was taped for broadcast on ESPN2. In addition, teams were aligned in two pools: one for the four United States teams; the other for the International teams. The pools ensured only one game taking place for the championship.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, led to memorable opening ceremonies prior to the start of the 2002 World Series. The ceremony paid tribute to local heroes, including Taylor police officers and firefighters. Taylor public safety officials continue to take part in opening ceremonies to this day.
The year 2002 marked the addition of a fifth region in the United States. Due to the popularity of baseball in the southwestern section of the United States, Little League International formed the Southwest Region. In Taylor, the Southwest team competed against teams from the West, South, Midwest and East regions for the USA championship and a spot in the World Series finals. Frequent series participant Lake Charles, Louisiana, was back again, but as the representative of the USA Southwest Region, instead of the usual USA South Region. The expansion caused Junior League World Series organizers to start the tournament a day earlier than usual to accommodate the addition of extra games. The 2002 World Series started on a Sunday rather than the usual Monday.
That same year, a Central American team – David, Chiriquí, Panama – played in the World Series for the first time. Panama fell short in a thrilling extra-inning finale to Cartersville, Georgia. It was the first time a team from Georgia won the world championship.
Just prior to the 2002 series, the area surrounding World Series Field received elaborate beautification, including brick pavers, knee walls, wrought iron fencing with gated entries and extensive landscaping.
The beautification continued in the summer of 2003. A Memorial Garden was planted, paying tribute to World Series volunteers who had passed away: Judy Bzura, Bob Sands, Richard Anderson, Ginger Anderson, Chuck McAllister and Toby Sullivan. Opening ceremonies included a moment of silence. Other great volunteers have been added to the garden since.
The 2003 World Series had three first-time entrants: the Khovrino Little League from Moscow, Russia, as well as teams from Massachusetts and Iowa. In addition, a team from Virginia played in the World Series for the first time since 1981, the year the series started.
The nation’s worst power outage affected Michigan and the World Series. A key round-robin game could not be played under the lights and had to be moved to the following afternoon. A team from LaMirada, California, won that game and went on to win the world championship. It was the fourth time that a team from California became world champion and the eighth time a team from the USA West Region won the title. A team from Panama – Santiago, Veraguas – was runner-up for the second straight year.
The teams raved about the fireworks display that was part of the opening ceremonies.
Another natural disaster – Hurricane Charley in Florida – affected the 2004 World Series in Taylor. A team from Tampa, Florida, won the South regional tournament in Georgia, but could not get a flight out of Tampa because the hurricane forced the closure of airports. Tampa arrived late, causing the schedule to be revamped, but the team wasted no time showing record-breaking firepower that took it to the world championship. Overall, 13 records were either tied or broken – most of them by Tampa.
Mexico and Puerto Rico
The 2004 World Series had 10 teams – the event’s biggest field to date – as a decision was made to give Mexico or Puerto Rico an automatic berth in the tournament due to the popularity of baseball in both Latin American nations. Mexico was seeded in 2004 and continued to be seeded in even-number years.
Puerto Rico returned in 2005 and continues to be seeded in odd-number years. The odd team out – Puerto Rico or Mexico – can still qualify for the World Series by winning the Latin American region.
The 10-team field continued in 2005 – the 25th year of the tournament – with Panama City, Panama, becoming the first team from Central America to win the world championship by defeating Tarpon Springs, Florida, in the finals, 4-0.
Also in 2005, the World Series announced a partnership with the Detroit Tigers professional baseball team that saw the Tigers help promote the series. Tigers players Nate Robertson, Vance Wilson and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez made appearances at World Series Field, greeting players and other visitors to the city.
Since 2005 was the 25th year of the World Series, players and coaches from Boardman, Ohio – the first world championships – were honored throughout the week, creating more World Series memories.
In 2006, the world championship returned to the United States as El Campo, Texas, became the first USA Southwest region team to win the title in a 2-1 victory over the Mexican national champs from Guaymas, Sonora, in a true “border series.” Texas pitcher Matthew Hamman earned three victories, tying a series record. His 27 strikeouts in 20 innings set another record. The combined 50 strikeouts by Hamman and teammates Andrew Kinder (20) and Holden Whitley (three) set a team record. Catcher Landon Appling batted a series-high .706 (12 for 17). Appling's grandfather, John Paul Appling, played for Texas in the Little Bigger World Series in 1952 in New Jersey when he was 14 years old.
The team from Venezuela set a series record with 23 stolen bases.
The 2006 World Series was significant for Mexico in more than one way. The event marked the 20th anniversary of the year Mexico first played in the world tournament.
Jakarta became the first team from Indonesia to play in any World Series, representing the Asia-Pacific region in 2006. That increased the international team representation to a total of 15 nations to go along with teams from 27 states.
The Hawaii Connection
In addition, two members of the 1984 world champs from Pearl City, Hawaii, returned to Taylor with the 2006 team from Pearl City. Former player Ron Nakamura served as one of the team's coaches. And former player Scott Sato accompanied his son, Keanu, who was a member of the 2006 team. The Satos are believed to be the only father and son to play in the Junior League World Series.
The 2006 World Series also marked the beginning of "streaming audio," which is the ability to announce the game from World Series Field over the Internet. World Series followers around the globe could hear game-by-game broadcasts over www.cityoftaylor.com/worldseries. The next year, 2007, the Satos would become the only father-son team to win the Junior League World Series as Pearl City played in Taylor for the fourth straight year – and won the world championship. Three years later, Pearl City standout Chace Numata would be drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies.
The 2007 series also is remembered for the team that finished runner-up from Manila, Philippines. While no previous Asia-Pacific regional champion had ever won more than one game in a single year, the Philippines all-stars won five straight to earn the International title before suffering their only loss, 6-2, to Team Hawaii.
The 2007 series was the first for a team from the Philippines, but also marked the debut of teams from the Ukraine and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cash-strapped fans of all teams were pleased when the World Series began accepting credit cards for souvenir purchases. And all fans were pleased when the Taylor Walmart store donated a new scoreboard.
The next year, 2008, marked the first year the JLWS was won by a team from Curacao, which made its debut in the series. Curacao, the Latin America champion, became the first team from the Netherlands Antilles and the first team from the Caribbean to win the world championship for 13- and 14-year-olds.
England also played in Taylor for the first time, while series runner-up Hawaii made its 12th appearance in the tournament.
The installation of a state-of-the-art lighting system in 2008 was the beginning of a new era at World Series Field.
The 2008 series was dedicated to the memory of Andy Gerick, who passed away in January. Andy was the only official scorekeeper and statistician in JLWS history. An annual golf outing in Andy’s honor raises funds for the World Series.
In 2009, an all-star team from Scottsdale, Arizona, won 24 straight games from the time the team was formed until the time it won the Junior League World Series. The runner-up from Aruba didn’t win the series, but the team debuted by setting records for the biggest margin of victory in a game (23 over Canada), most pitching strikeouts (55), runs batted in (52) and runs scored (64). Teams from Italy and New Mexico also debuted.
For the first time, Youth Sports Live (YSL) provided video streaming of every game of the Junior League World Series and the other seven baseball and softball world series under the direction of Little League International, making games available on computers around the world.
The 2009 USA Friday night championship game between Arizona and New Jersey was postponed by rain until Saturday for the first time in JLWS history.
The World Series turned 30 in 2010 and it marked the debut of a team from Chinese Taipei, which brought the first JLWS championship to the Asia-Pacific region. The Chung-Ching Junior Little League all-stars of Taipei City not only won the series, they also drew some of the largest crowds in JLWS history.
The runners-up from Tyler, Texas, included Patrick Mahomes II, son of former Major League pitcher Pat Mahomes. The 2010 series marked the first time a team from Guatemala competed in any World Series sanctioned by Little League International – and the Guatemala City team finished second in the International Pool.
The 2011 World Series will be remembered as having one of the finest championship games in history. The Palma Ceia/Bayshore program in Tampa, Florida, defeated Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei, 2-1. It was the second Junior League world championship for Palma Ceia/Bayshore and extended Tampa teams' record for world titles to 4-for-4. At the same time, Taoyuan was prevented from becoming the second straight Chinese Taipei team from winning the world championship.
The championship game was broadcast live on ESPN2 and www.ESPN3.com. The tournament marked the debut of a team from Rhode Island, bringing the total states represented in the World Series to 29.
Not everything was perfect in 2011. A thunderstorm forced postponement of the colorful opening ceremonies. Only the fireworks display went off as planned.
In 2012, the boys from Rockledge, Florida, used their hitting prowess to go undefeated throughout Junior League baseball post-season play, but they won the world championship game on a balk and a walk. The USA Southeast champs scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 10-10 tie and defeat Oranjestad, Aruba, 12-10, in one of the wildest and highest-scoring finales in JLWS history. One key to the victory for Rockledge was two home runs by Mason Studstill, who set World Series records with six home runs, 14 runs batted in and 12 runs scored. He also hit a team-high .571. Rockledge’s title marked the second straight World Series championship for a team from Florida and the fifth in five appearances in the final game of the tournament.
Like the Home Run Derby is an important part of the Major Leagues All-Star Game festivities, the Best Buy Home Run Derby is a fun part of Junior League World Series week. Players belt five baseballs off a tee and attempt to clear the fence of the nearby Senior League field in Heritage Park.
The umpires of the series meet challenging qualifications to be selected for the Junior League World Series. An umpire cannot participate until such time as he or she has previously umpired in state and regional championships. Umpires have come from 33 states, Aruba, Belgium, Canada, Curacao, Germany, Guam, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Turkey, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands.
All umpires are volunteers, including Director of Umpires George Glick and his assistant, Orland King, known affectionately as “the legend of Taylor.” Glick is a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana. King resides in Kenton, Ohio.
A team of volunteers
In fact, a team of more than 200 volunteers take on various roles to make the Junior League World Series a success. The World Series has been a family event, as Taylor residents and others in the area help chaperone players and serve as "aunts and uncles." For 19 years, local families housed visiting players. In the years since, they have stayed at the headquarters hotel, now the Holiday Inn in neighboring Southgate. All of the volunteers do an outstanding job. They have fun, but are very serious about their responsibilities.
Improvements to the World Series complex continue as deemed necessary. In 2010, Tim Witz of Talan Construction Co. – who is also the treasurer of both the World Series and the host Taylor South Little League – remodeled the umpire room in the World Series press box structure and participated in the renovation of the rest rooms at the base of the press box.
In 2011, the building that serves as the backdrop for all series games received a new roof that includes access platforms for camera operators and the display of flags of all 10 World Series participants. A separate “Hill of Champions” – containing flags of every state or international nation that has every played in the World Series – is stationed beyond the center field fence.
Visitors on hand for the 2012 World Series were able to pose for photographs in front of a small building created to hold the large World Series Field tarp and welcome people to the field. The wooden box is in the right field foul territory. The side facing away from the field includes the World Series logo, a map of the worldwide regions and a Taylor South Little League logo, since games are hosted by the league. The side facing the field includes a sign saying the field is home to the World Series, a sign indicating the sponsorship by Taylor Ford and the American Flag.
Players competing in the 2012 series were able to take advantage of brand new premium batting cages beyond the right-center field fences. The batting cages were donated by members of UAW Ford.
In face, sponsorships, donations and volunteer efforts pay for all costs associated with the Junior League World Series.
Additional highlights from history are available in the program for the Junior League World Series.