Monday, July 31, 2006

International Bracket Filling Up

As American teams get ready to start the regional tournaments that will qualify eight teams to play in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, the field of eight international teams has already started to get filled.

Already, teams from Curacao, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, CNMI (shorthand for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), and Saudi Arabia have earned slots in the LLWS.

The open international bracket spots are EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), which concludes its tournament in Kutno, Poland, on August 9, and Canada, which concludes its tournament in Vancouver on August 12.

Because of their long travel distances -- and the less extensive schedule of qualifying tournaments -- the international teams have more time to practice for the World Series.

(To follow the American teams' march through the final state tournaments and the regional tournaments -- as well as the rest of international play -- see, the only comprehensive results site for the Little League World Series and its qualifying tournaments.)

CURACAOAN DYNASTY CONTINUES RUN: Curacao Pabao Little League defeated the Elrod Hendricks Little League from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 14-3, to win the Caribbean Region. Pabao -- which won the LLWS in 2004 and the international title in 2005 -- finished with a 6-0 record in the 10-team tournament.

As I detail in my new book Little League, Big Dreams, Curacao has assembled a dynasty in one of the world's greatest baseball regions. Curacao has won the last five Caribbean championships, despite the presence of the Dominican Republic in the region. Curacao's dominance is a testament to the longterm training of figures like Frank Curiel and Vernon Isabella, who work with kids from tee ball through the teen years to produce Little League champions.

Curacao, an island about 50 miles north of Venezuela, is one of the most interesting places anywhere for baseball. Until recently, baseball was just one of many sports that kids played. But with Andruw Jones's emergence as a major league superstar -- and with Curacao's 2004 LLWS title -- kids have flocked to the dusty fields of the island.

Curacao is not as poor as other Caribbean nations, but it's not soaked with privilege like many American and Japanese communities. Kids eat well, attend good schools, and have access to an amazingly diverse culture. But most are not rich. The true wealth of the island comes from its exposure to true cultural diversity. The island -- made up of people from Europe, Latin America, and Africa -- is part of the Netherlands. People there speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Papiamento.

JAPAN REPRESENTS ASIA AGAIN: Japan qualified for the LLWS despite having the same records as their major opponents because they compiled the best composite score in the tournament.

CNMI EDGES GUAM, REPRESENTS PACIFIC: The championship game between CNMI and Guam was rained out, so the teams' overall records determined the title. CNMI went 4-0, with a runs differential of 43-6. Guam went 3-1.

VENEZUELA SENDS TEAM TO LLWS SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR: The Cardenales Little League of Barquesimeto, Lara, in Venezuela, beat the Liga Pequena De Beisbol Little League, from Guatemala City, Guatemala, 8-2, to advance to Williamsport. Cardenales had a 7-1 record in the seven-team tournament.

Last year's Latin America tournament was marred by charges of fraud, as the winner from Altagracia, Venezuela, was eliminated for using an overage player. Altagracia was replaced by another Venezuelan team, from Valencia, which went 1-2 in the 2005 Williamsport tournament.

Two teams from Venezuela have won the Little League World Series. The most recent champion came from Sierra Maestra, Maracaibo, in 2000.

In addition to becoming a Little League dynasty, Venezuela has become a major source of talent for the major leagues. Major league franchises have begun to establish baseball academies in Venezuela to scout and train players. That could detract from future Little League success in Venezuela, if the best young players get taken out of community programs at an early age.

MEXICO CROWNS CHAMPION: After falling into the losers’ bracket of the Mexican regional tournament, the Matamoros Little League of Taumalipas beat Santa Catarina Little League, from Neuvo Leon, 10-0, to advance to Williamsport.

Matamoros went 14-1 over the course of the 12-team, three-round tournament. In a quirk of the national tournament, Matamoros and Santa Catarina played each other five times.

Mexican teams have won the LLWS three times. The most recent title came in 1997 when Linda Vista Little League in Guadalupe beat Mission Viejo, California, 5-4. In two of the most famous tournaments ever, a team from Monterrey, Mexico, won titles in 1957 and 1958.

SAUDIS WIN ANOTHER TRANS-ATLANTIC TITLE: One of the more curious presence in the Little League World Series is the team from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The team is made up of expats from the U.S. and other western nations who live and work in the desert kingdom. Even as they breeze through the tournament against other expat teams, they traditionally struggle in Williamsport. The Saudis were 0-3 in the LLWS in 2005.

The biggest news from the Saudi team was a curiosity named Aaron Durling. At 6-5, 226 pounds, Durling made history as the biggest kid ever to play in the tournament. He was more than three times heavier than the littlest player in the series.


Blogger Section1Guy said...

I love the Little League World Series, but the international side of the bracket bothers me a lot.

I have no faith that Little League keeps a close eye on the teams in Japan or Curacao.

I'd like to know how the Curacao team is selected, out of how many players, how many teams in the league, etc.

The Bahamas make no mistake about it that they send a national team to the Carribean regional.

I think Curacao sends a national team as well. Supposedly Pabao and Pariba(?) are the two leagues down there that do well, but I don't buy that they all live within a certain residential area like the American teams do.

As for Japan, I've heard completely unfounded but very interesting rumors that their teams skirt the residency issue by living in boarding schools and using that as their address.

2:31 PM  

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