The Senior League World Series brought eight teams from all over the world to Mansfield Stadium in Bangor to vie for a championship between 2002 and 2016.
The tournament was moved to Easley, South Carolina, beginning with the 2017 season for a variety of reasons, including easier and less expensive transportation options and dormitory housing for the teams from nearby Clemson University.
But Senior Little League baseball returned to Mansfield Stadium in 2019 in the form of the East Regional as eight teams battled for the right to go to Easley and play in the Senior League World Series.
After a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic the East Regional returned to Bangor this week but the future of the tournament is unclear. For the first time ever — including the Senior League World Series and the East Regional — there isn’t a single Maine team playing in the tournament.
That’s because there’s no one playing Senior League baseball in Maine this summer, according to executive director and tournament director Mike Brooker. Brooker has been the director for the Senior League World Series and East Regionals ever since they started hosting in 2002.
Players in the 14- to 16-year-old age bracket are playing Junior American Legion baseball, Senior American Legion or travel ball, Brooker said.
Not having a Maine team in the tournament hurts attendance at Mansfield Stadium.
There also aren’t any teams from Vermont and New Hampshire.
Whether or not Bangor will host the East Regionals again will be decided in about four months. Brooker is on the advisory board that establishes the tournament site for the following year.
“I won’t be able to guarantee that there will be a Maine team involved in it next year, so it will be their decision if they want to award us the regional again,” said Brooker, who will be willing to host it without a Maine team in it depending upon one important question: will there be enough community support?
“We have four or five people who are running just about everything, and I’m the youngest of the group at 66,” Brooker said.
Ron St. Pierre, who has been in charge of the field maintenance, and Dave Mansfield, stadium manager, are both 79. So is Jimmy Owens, who was St. Pierre’s right-hand man for several years and is still on hand. They are volunteers.
Gloria Owens, Jimmy’s wife, and Lisa Brooker, Mike’s wife, also volunteer their time at the souvenir stands.
The city of Bangor employs people to work on the field under St. Pierre’s direction.
“[National] Little League loves us and the people who come here love us. But there is only so much we can do with the manpower we have,” Brooker said.
Next month, Brooker and Bangor West Little League officials will meet with the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department.
“We want to talk about getting more people involved with Bangor West and the Mansfield Stadium board. We want to see if we have the manpower to do this again,” said Brooker, who added that the 30-year lease agreement between Bangor West and the City of Bangor has run out and needs to be renewed.
“I think the City appreciates the fact we’ve been able to run the stadium for 30 years and bring economic activity to the area and surrounding towns,” Brooker said. “People are going to our restaurants and hotels.”
Bangor has never lost money on the tournament but doesn’t make any either, according to Brooker.
A stipend from Little League covers about 40 percent of the cost. Ticket sales and souvenir sales help cover the rest. The only major expenses are the umpires’ hotels and the pre-tournament banquet or cookout.
Brooker is cautiously optimistic that there will be Senior League teams in Maine next season, but he won’t know for sure until April.
“We have six teams in the Junior League division in our district, three in Hancock County and two in the greater Portland area in Falmouth and Windham,” Brooker said, referring to the 13- to 14-year-old age group. “Will those kids and their parents want to be involved in Senior Little League next year or will they play Junior American Legion ball or on travel teams? I don’t know.”
For now, teams must include players from the town that is aligned with Little League and it can’t be a cooperative team comprised of players from several towns.
Allowing co-op teams is being discussed for future seasons, Brooker said.
Nine Major Leaguers played in the Senior League World Series, including Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Milwaukee second baseman Kolten Wong and Atlanta Braves closer Kenley Jansen.