WATERVILLE — As August nears, a national youth baseball tournament that’s just around the corner is the talk of the town.
This year’s Cal Ripken Major World Series is set to be held Aug. 4-14 in Waterville and Oakland. The tournament will invite 12 teams, four of which are from Maine, to the area with games set to be held at the acclaimed Little Fenway Park and Little Wrigley Field.
It’s been more than two years now that Waterville lost out on the Cal Ripken World Series, which it had been set to host before the coronavirus pandemic rocked the world. The city was unable to host the 2021 tournament, which had already been awarded to West Palm Beach, Florida, but has been preparing for 2022 after a successful bid for this year’s event.
“We really made an effort to see if we could get it back here right after that 2020 tournament was canceled,” said Alfond Youth Center CEO Ken Walsh. “We’ve really kicked into high gear for the past year or so. This is a big tournament and an exciting opportunity for our area.”
The Waterville area, Walsh noted, was able to lure the tournament to the area through Little Fenway and Little Wrigley. Those replica ballparks are sanctioned by Major League Baseball and offer artificial turf, an ideal playing surface for an 11-day tournament that can afford minimal postponements.
Preparation for the event has been the work of tournament overseers, as well a team of roughly 50 volunteers. Those individuals working to raise money, bringing in larger grandstands for the fields and coordinating schedules and lodging for 12 teams.
The tournament is expected to bring more than 3,000 people to Waterville, Oakland and surrounding communities. Although those in attendance will be here for the baseball, they’ll also be eating at local restaurants, staying at local hotels and seeing a variety of local attractions.
“I’ve been in recreation for years, and I’m a big believer that recreation is economic development,” Walsh said. “When you have a high-end tournament like this, it’s going to bring in a lot of economic growth. I think Waterville has a lot to offer for recreation, and this is a great way for us to showcase it.”
The Waterville 12U Cal Ripken team qualified automatically as the host and will be joined from Maine by Andy Valley (Lewiston), Ararat (Topsham area) and Noble (Berwick). Teams from Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia will also participate, as will two yet-to-qualify teams from the Pacific regionals.
A skills clinic will be held on the first day of the tournament with former MLB players Fergie Jenkins, Steve Lyons and Mike Torrez in attendance. The 2020 Waterville team that was denied a chance to play in the canceled tournament will be honored prior to the opening games.
“Even though they can’t play because they’re too old, they worked hard to get to that point, and they deserve it,” Walsh said. “Waterville is a baseball town, no doubt about it. I think we’re going to knock it out of the park.”
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Maine’s capital area will be well-represented as state Little League tournaments get underway this week at two locations.
The Augusta Little League 9-11 all-star team will compete in the state tournament in Old Town. The District 5 champions faced Old Town Little League Wednesday in the opening game of the tournament.
The Augusta 12U team is set to begin state tournament play Sunday in Waldoboro. The team reached the competition by winning three of its four games in the District 5 tournament. It defeated Hallowell-Farmingdale and took two of three against Lewiston to repeat as fields.
Also competing in the 12U tournament are Sunrise (Milbridge), Five Town (Waldoboro), Bangor East/Bangor West, Saco/Wilton and Bonny Eagle (Buxton). The state tournament winner will play in the New England championships next month.