The move of the Senior League World Series to Easley, South Carolina, in 2017 jolted Maine District 3 baseball officials who had hosted that event at Mansfield Stadium for 15 years to largely complimentary feedback.
Little League Baseball officials apparently remembered the venue’s upbeat atmosphere, given its decision to move the Senior League East Regional Tournament from West Deptford, New Jersey, to Bangor beginning next July.
“You don’t know the number of people who have fond memories of their experiences in Bangor until they come up and tell you,” said Maine District 3 administrator Mike Brooker, who served as executive director of the Senior League World Series from 2002 to 2016.
“There were a lot of people in Little League that were dismayed that we lost the World Series.”
The move of the East Regional to Bangor after its 28-year-stay in New Jersey was prompted by a couple of factors, according to Little League East Region director Corey Wright.
“Some community involvement was lacking in West Deptford, and there’s been a change in their local league board of directors the past three consecutive years, and we just couldn’t get the ball moving with some of the progression we wanted to make going forward,” he said.
Wright said West Deptford officials and coaches were aware of the issues and were understanding about the decision to move the tournament.
Wright and other Little League officials made a site visit to Mansfield Stadium on Nov. 28, then the move was announced during an East Region Advisory Board meeting last Friday in Bristol, Connecticut.
“I was originally asked earlier in the year if we would consider doing the East Regional,” said Brooker, now a member of that advisory panel. “The East Region [board] thought it would be a good time for the move since we were available and West Deptford was having some issues.”
The East Regional tournament will run from July 17 to 24 with either a double-elimination or pool-play format. The champion advances to the Senior League World Series that begins three days later in South Carolina.
“Obviously with Bangor being a former World Series site, we knew we had a good diamond in the waiting,” Wright said. “The people there know at the core what’s involved with the operation of a tournament like this.”
The East Regional is expected to involve between 10 and 12 teams, including both the Maine District 3 champion as the host team and the Maine Senior League champion, which last summer was Machias from the Down East-based District 1.
The number of teams will be determined by whether New Hampshire and Vermont choose to send representatives. New Hampshire sent a team to the Junior League regionals for the first time last year, Wright said.
Other states that qualify teams for the East Regional are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Brooker said the fact none of those teams is more than a day’s drive away from the tournament site may result in an attendance boost compared to the Senior League World Series held at Mansfield Stadium.
“We foresee the regional as potentially bringing more people to Bangor than an international tournament,” Brooker said. “They’re not coming as far and it’s earlier in the tournament season, so we don’t have to worry about a European or an Asia-Pacific team that won’t bring anybody with them. Hopefully all of these teams will bring people with them.”
Another boost to attendance may come from having two Maine teams at the regional. Only one Maine entry, the Maine District 3 champion, participated in the Senior League World Series during its run in Bangor.
Senior League baseball has struggled to retain a foothold in Maine in recent years with the presence of such competing entities as Junior Legion and Cal Ripken Baseball.
District 3, which extends from the Pittsfield-Newport area in central Maine to Houlton in Aroostook County, has been the most concentrated area of Senior League competition.
Even that district has suffered since the Senior League World Series was moved to South Carolina because of transportation and other logistical issues.
Maine District 3 fielded only three Senior League teams last summer, but Brooker hopes the number of participating teams will increase within the district and around the state with the opportunity to compete in a regional in front of a hometown or home-state crowd for the chance to qualify for the Senior League World Series.
Brooker sent emails to other district administrators and Little League officials around the state informing them of the situation.
“I am hopeful that this will prompt a resurgence in Senior League baseball, and get a lot of towns and a lot of leagues back into Senior League in the district and in Maine,” he said.
Brooker said hosting the East Regional will be less taxing monetarily for the local organizers than the Senior League World Series. Teams are responsible for their own transportation and housing for the regional, though Brooker has arranged with four local properties to provide blocks of rooms during the tournament at somewhat discounted rates.
“Financially it’s a lot less of a burden,” he said.