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Jack Regenye's amazing catch
A year after Chinese Taipei won its fifth straight world championship and an outfielder from Pennsylvania stole a guaranteed home run by making the “catch of the Millennium,” the Junior League Baseball World Series returns to Taylor’s Heritage Park.
Teams of 13- and 14-year-old ballplayers from around the world arrive this week having already won regional or national championships. Opening ceremonies and fireworks are scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday at World Series Field. And the games get under way at 11 a.m. Sunday.
“Every year, the excitement is the same as the prior year,” said Greg Bzura, tournament founder and the only director the World Series has had. “The challenge is there. We’ve proven this division is an outstanding division. We know the kids are going to be great.”
In its 38th year, the Junior League World Series is the older brother of the more famous Little League World Series, the tournament for 12-year-olds in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Despite the JLWS’s age and maturity, you never know what might happen from year to year – as evidenced by the diving-over-the-centerfield-fence catch by Jack Regenye of last year’s USA champions from the KAU Little League in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
The play in last year’s World Series finale was seen by a worldwide audience on ESPN2. Video of “the catch” went viral, appearing on sports shows everywhere and such shows as “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” Photos by Andrew Knapik of PDQ Photos appeared on the front page of sports sections. Regenye became a rock star and the JLWS gained more attention than ever before.
In some ways, the catch overshadowed the world championship by the Shing-Ming Junior Little League all-stars from Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei. It was the fifth straight year that a team from Chinese Taipei went undefeated and went home with the JLWS title.
This year, there will be an even 12 teams in the series – most in JLWS history. There will be six from the United States and six from international places. Little League International, which oversees seven series, designated the winner of Michigan District 5 as the host team in this year’s series – the first time that has happened. The Brownstown all-stars won a five-team tournament at World Series Field and will play their first game on Monday.
“The World Series continues to grow,” said Taylor Councilman Dan Bzura, a lifelong volunteer and son of JLWS Director Greg. “I think it’s great that Williamsport thought so highly of the World Series that they invited the champion of Australia to join us a few years ago and now they’ve added a team from our own backyard. This not only gives more kids a chance to participate in youth sports, it creates more opportunities to play in a World Series.”
Brownstown will have plenty of competition. The other five American teams arrive as regional champions, including USA West champ Manhattan Beach from California and Southwest champ Lufkin, Texas. As of this writing three regional tournaments were ongoing in Fort Myers, Florida; Freehold Township, New Jersey; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Six Lufkin players were part of the runners-up (to Japan) in the 2017 Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The Michigan state champions from St. Clair are competing in the Central regional in Fort Wayne.
All of the teams in the International Pool teams have qualified. Taoyuan will be back to defend its title. The Hills Little League from Sydney, New South Wales, also will return as the Australian national champion.
Also coming to Taylor will be the Europe/Africa champions from the Emilia Romagna Little League in Italy; the Latin America champs from the Aruba Center Little League in Santa Cruz, Aruba; the Canadian national champions from the Diamond Academy Little League in Mirabel, Quebec; and the Mexican national champs from the Trevino Kelly League in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
The World Series is played in a “modified double elimination” format. Teams play until they’ve lost twice. Once four teams are left, the top-ranked International teams play at 3 p.m. Saturday, August 18, followed by the USA championship game at 6 p.m.
The two remaining teams play for the world title at noon on Sunday, August 19. That game will have a worldwide audience on ESPN2. All other games can be viewed on the JLWS’ popular streaming video system with play by play on the website www.ustream.tv/channel/jlws.
World Series Field is located in the Taylor South Little League complex at Heritage Park, 12111 Pardee Road. Admission is $5 per game per carload or $15 for the entire week. Both fees include parking. Admission to opening ceremonies is free.
Support for the World Series continues to grow. Ron Hinrichs, president of the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce, sent a message to members urging them to join in welcoming the teams to Taylor, the Downriver area and Southern Wayne County, using signage whenever possible.
Hank Sower of the Detroit Metro Convention Visitors Bureau will bring his organization’s D-Rover to the World Series for the second straight year. Sower, who lives in Taylor, said he and a partner will promote tourism in the region, distribute material and provide some giveaways from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday at World Series Field.
For more information about the World Series, visit the website www.cityoftaylor.com/worldseries. The World Series has an active Facebook page, www.facebook.com/juniorleagueworldseries. The World Series’ Instagram page is active during World Series week. Search jlws_taylor.