Thursday, August 10, 2006

Russia One of Three LLWS Repeaters So Far

Yet another team from the 2005 Little League World Series—the Brateevo Little League of Moscow—will return to the Little League World Series in Williamsport later this month.

Brateevo beat Baden-Wuerttemberg Little League, from Mannheim, Germany, 4-0, to win the hodge-podge EMEA championship game. EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

Russia finished EMEA tournament with a perfect 8-0 record. Germany finished 6-1.

The Russians went 0-3 in the LLWS last summer but showed strong skills in pitching, fielding, and base running. Hitting—especially against the curveball—was the team’s greatest weakness.

The manager of the Russian all stars, a former hockey player named Alexey Erofeev, was aloe among Little League coaches in the 2005 LLWS in banning his players from throwing curveballs. At the end of the tournament, he said his top priority in preparing for 2006 would be to teach his kids to hit curves.

Erofeev was one of the most fascinating people I met in Williamsport last year. Even though Russia doesn’t have much of a baseball tradition, he insists that kids can learn the game quickly and well. He isolates different skills and works on them.

Unlike the hyperspecialized Americans—who tell promising athletes that they have to pick a sport to concentrate on before they’re teenagers—Erofeev says kids will learn baseball better if they play a wide range of sports. He clinches his case by asking whether it’s harder to his a baseball, standing still with complete concentration on the pitcher, or to hit a hockey puck while moving on skates with a goon from the other side barreling toward you.

I personally would rather be standing there with the bat, timing the pitcher.

Brateevo joins two other returning teams in the international bracket. The others are Curacao (Caribbean), Saudi Arabia (Trans-National). A final team from 2004, Whalley Little League of British Columbia, went 5-0 in pool play in the Canadian national tournament. Canada’s tournament final takes place on Saturday, August 12.

Russian teams have made it to Williamsport for five of the last six years. A Polish team played in the tournament in 2004.

One Americ an team -- Owensboro Southern Little League of Kentucky -- still has a chance to play in the LLWS this year. Owensboro, which played in the last two tournaments (going 0-6), is still alive in the Great Lakes regional tournament.

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