By Dave Gorgon
Jeannie Bagdassarian got emotional Saturday night when her father, Ray Sr., walked on World Series Field at Heritage Park.
In 1981, when Jeannie was 15, she was one of the faithful fans of the Boardman, Ohio, baseball team that won the first Junior League World Series. Her dad managed the team. Her brother, Ray Jr., known as “Scooter,” played third base and pitched on the team.
All three made the trip to Taylor for the 25th annual World Series, along with Ed Moore, who was a coach on the team, and two other players, Jeff Pregi and Tom Pipoly, and a number of family members.
“I got tears in my eyes when I saw Ed and my dad walk on the field,” Jeanne said. “It’s awesome. The first time in 25 years just brought everything back. I had my nose pressed up against that fence, screaming. I didn’t have a voice. It was great. This is truly something, really.”
In 1981, the World Series was open to just 13-year-olds. Jeannie remembers the team running around the field with the World Series banner and the subsequent parade when they returned to Boardman.
During opening ceremonies on Saturday, all five members of the Boardman team were part of the Parade of Champions around the field. Pregi and Pipoly threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ray Sr. gave an inspirational speech to the crowd, calling Taylor “the greatest place in the world.”
“I’ve been back here four or five times,” he said. “Most of it’s because we were the first World Series winners, but the hospitality and people here are just amazing. That’s why I keep coming back. I don’t know why I missed 15 years, but I’ll be back next year for our 25-year anniversary and I hope to bring more players.”
Ray Sr. said he was watching last year’s World Series championship game on ESPN2, when he saw World Series Director Greg Bzura leaning on the fence.
“I said, I’ve got to get back to Taylor,” he said.
During his return, Ray Sr. noted the many improvements to the park and the baseball complex, the addition of a pavilion, the expanded press box and the outfield fences that were moved back to accommodate 14-year-old players, who were added to the Junior Division in 1999.
Ray Sr. and Moore helped pass out uniforms Saturday as teams arrived. Ray Jr. threw out the first pitch at the opening game on Sunday.
“The team we had that year, if we had kept playing for two years, I don’t think we would have lost a game,” said Ray Jr., who works with Pregi at Motech. “We were 15-0 and we only had one close game. Two years later, we almost went back to the World Series as 15-year-olds. We fell two games short.”
Pipoly, who is in pharmaceutical sales and lives in Cleveland, called World Series week “the most amazing time of my life, period.”
“It was a group of guys that came together and we didn’t lose. It was fun. And we had great coaching. And we played together. There was no animosity between the guys. You played here one day; you could be playing the next position the next. That was the good thing about our team. Plus we had about 10 pitchers.”
Returning to Taylor “has been pretty amazing,” he said.
“I was able to bring my three young boys back. Two of them are playing baseball now. They saw what we did and it’s even a little more emotional for them. Last night, they told mom they were proud of dad. That’s pretty amazing to me.
“It’s been great. They’ve done a lot more to the World Series to make it even more interesting and exciting. The row of champions is pretty amazing, also, especially since ours is the first one. Hopefully, someday my boys will be playing up here.
Moore has continued coaching baseball and softball and is currently a high school girls softball coach.
“I think that the 13 and 14 age bracket is the best,” he said. “It’s baseball. You can run, you can bunt, you can hit and run and so forth. The kids are manageable. It’s great. The parents get involved. The people of Taylor when we were here were fantastic. It’s one of those things you don’t see that often.
“The thing is when you’ve been involved in as much baseball as I have, you meet all kinds of people. You go to different tournaments. I have yet in 25 years found a better bunch of people than the people in Taylor. They just treat us great. It really means a lot to us. I’ve been to Arizona and the Carolinas and all over the place. This is still my favorite place to come.”