WATERVILLE — It’s known as the Cal Ripken World Series, but there’s no denying that there’s a heavy regional feel to it.
Four of the 12 teams at this year’s tournament — one-third of the field — hail from Maine. There are also teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont present, giving the national championship tournament for the 46/60 a New England vibe.
“You’ve got teams from all over the country, but there’s a lot of us from right here in New England,” said Shaun Walsh, co-manager of the Weymouth, Massachusetts, team. “It’s great to have all that representation here and meet kids from around our region.”
With the qualifying process not necessarily so clear-cut, the road was paved for a tournament in which teams made it to Waterville in a variety of different ways. The result has been a Cal Ripken World Series with plenty of regional blood present in central Maine.
Two Maine teams, Waterville and Andy Valley, earned automatic places in the tournament a year ago. Waterville qualified instantly upon being selected as the host for the event, and Andy Valley, which could not attend the World Series last year after winning the New England title, was given an automatic bid to this year’s event.
Central Vermont, which was undefeated entering World Series play, made it three teams from New England by winning the 12U regional championship earlier this month. West Hartford, Connecticut qualified by winning the Mid-Atlantic tournament, though the team still, by all means, hails from a New England state.
For three other teams, though, qualifying was a much more nail-biting process. Two other teams from Maine, Ararat and Noble, as well as the Massachusetts state champion, Weymouth, were added after representatives from other regions dropped out of the tournament.
“We were one of the invite teams, so we had to wait and see to find out if we were going,” said Weymouth’s Owen Walsh. “My dad is the coach, so I was waiting to find out through him, but a friend found out before and told me. We were all so excited.”
The New England matchups have been among the closest games of the World Series thus far. On the opening day of play, Ararat and Weymouth registered 2-1 victories over Central Vermont and Andy Valley, respectively. Noble defeated Weymouth 11-7 on Monday in another hard-fought game.
That’s meant a few rematches of contests that took place in the regional and state tournaments and even during the regular season. Some of the players on the Ararat and Andy Valley teams also played key roles on squads that made deep runs a year ago.
“We have two kids, Daniel Beal and Brady Hiltz, who played for us on the team that made [the Cal Ripken World Series in Florida] last year,” said Ararat co-manager Rob Beal. “We’ve had some good battles with Andy Valley. To have good teams from this state representing is good to see.”
That’s not to say, though, that a tournament with a somewhat regional focus to it doesn’t have its downsides. Part of national and international tournaments, after all, is getting to meet as many players from different places as possible, and there’s a bit less of that with multiple regions not represented.
“I think you can look at and say that it’s good and bad,” said Andy Valley co-manager Joe Trybus. “It’s good that it’s local, and I think we get a good draw because of that. On the other side of it, you’d love to see some more teams from all over the country come here.”
As of press time Tuesday, Ararat was second in the American division at 2-1, while Central Vermont (1-2) and Waterville (0-3) were fourth and sixth, respectively. On the National side, Andy Valley (second place, 3-1) and Weymouth (third place, 2-1) were in the top three with West Hartford (0-4) placed sixth. The top-three teams from each division advance to the championship bracket.
Growing up following sports in New England, of course, also frequently ties people from the region’s six states together. Games at Maine’s Fenway Park in nearby Oakland, then, have presented local youngsters from Maine to Connecticut with chances to play in a replica of their favorite ballpark.
“We love our hometown teams, and so do the teams from all over,” said Weymouth’s Gavin Donlan. “We’re from Boston, so we want to see Little Fenway. It’s great to be here and play in it.”