In the end, last year’s Little League World Series was marred by scandal. A Chicago team that had captured the city’s heart on its way to a U.S. championship was later stripped of all its victories after rules violations were uncovered.
One can only hope that this year’s tournament, which begins Thursday afternoon in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, will be free of controversy. So far, at least, none have developed, and the focus has been on the hundreds of 11- through 13-year-olds who will take the field in the coming days.
These young ballplayers make up 16 teams from 16 towns and cities in nine countries. A sampling: There are teams from Bonita, California; Taipei, Taiwan; Tokyo, Japan; Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic; and Barquisimeto, Venezuela. The teams are All-Star squads, assembled a couple months ago from a city or town’s best players specifically to qualify for — and now play in — the Little League World Series.
From Thursday until August 30, the five-round tournament will progress in a double-elimination bracket format that includes several consolation games. One side of the bracket is devoted entirely to the eight American teams; the other includes the eight international squads. The U.S. champion and international champion will meet in the overall championship game on the 30th.
All games will be televised live on ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC.
At the 2014 tournament, female pitcher Mo’ne Davis — just the 18th girl to ever play in a Little League World Series — became the first of her gender to be credited with a win in a LLWS game, making her an instant celebrity as she and the Taney Dragons of Philadelphia advanced to the U.S. semifinals. (Neither the Dragons nor Davis will return for the 2015 LLWS.)
In a U.S. semifinal last year, the Dragons met Jackie Robinson West of Chicago, a team that created the other big story of the tournament. Chicagoans followed West’s deep run in the 2014 LLWS every step of the way, from the team’s win over the Dragons to its victory in the U.S. championship game, to, finally, the heartbreaking end as a team from Seoul, South Korea, trounced West in the overall championship game.
Despite the loss, Jackie Robinson West was feted with a parade through downtown Chicago. But the fairytale ended with a crashing thud on the morning of February 11, 2015, when Little League International, which organizes the LLWS, stripped West of the team’s U.S. title and LLWS victories from 2014, alleging that West officials knowingly fielded players who lived outside the team’s residential boundaries.
This time there will be no teams from Chicago represented in South Williamsport. A squad from Bowling Green, Kentucky, won the Great Lakes regional qualifying tournament on Saturday to advance to the LLWS.
Bowling Green and the 15 other teams that will participate in the 2015 Little League World Series faced grueling competitions to qualify. The eight American regions — Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New England, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, and West — all held six-team tournaments in the past several weeks, with the winners advancing to the LLWS. Just to make the regional tournaments, teams had to win local competitions.
The international qualifying structure is quite complex as well. Eight international regions (that often include multiple countries or continents) held qualifying tournaments. Some of the tournaments included more than a dozen teams.
Interestingly, the United States had a team in the Europe and Africa tournament. Well, sort of. The American Ramstein Air Base in Germany fielded a joint Germany-USA team. Alas, that team did not make it to the 2015 LLWS.
When the first pitch of the 2015 Little League World Series is thrown on Thursday, it will begin 10 days of excitement and drama in South Williamsport. Organizers and fans hope that this year scandal and controversy will not be included.