Little Leaguers from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, accompanied by their hosts from Nogales and five other Western all-star squads, marched up Morley Avenue on Wednesday to officially begin the 2019 Little League Intermediate 50/70 West Regional Tournament.
Held at Nogales’ Fleischer Park for the sixth consecutive year, the nine-day baseball regional will determine which of the participating teams will represent the West at the Little League Intermediate 50/70 World Series, set for July 28-Aug. 4 in Livermore, Calif.
Asked what he’s most looking forward to during the tournament, 13-year-old Alaska player Hunter Manderson said: “Having fun, meeting new people.”
Philip Liu, a 13-year-old catcher-pitcher from Petaluma, Calif., also cited “meeting the other teams” as something he’s excited about. As for his impressions of Nogales so far, Liu mentioned two popular topics among the out-of-towners on Wednesday: the weather and the border.
“It’s really hot. We got to see the wall, too,” he said.
The weather was an immediate factor on Wednesday, as a monsoon storm rolled in soon after the parade, bringing powerful winds and dumping more than an inch of rain on the city. The downpour cancelled the tournament’s opening ceremony and postponed the inaugural game between Nogales and the Arizona representative from Sierra Vista until Thursday at 8 p.m.
Games are scheduled to be played at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. every day from Thursday, July 18 through Sunday, July 21. Following an off day on Monday, July 22, a final round of play is set to begin Tuesday, July 23, with the championship and consolation games set for July 25.
That’s all weather-permitting, of course.
In addition to the Nogales and Sierra Vista teams, participants include squads from Alaska (Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League), Hawaii (Central Maui LL), Northern California (Petaluma American LL), Oregon (Wilsonville LL), Southern California (Northridge LL) and Washington (Bellevue Thunderbird LL).
The Wilsonville team is making its first appearance at the regional after the community joined Little League baseball four years ago. People back home in Oregon are excitedly following the boys’ exploits in Nogales, asking for photos and videos, said team parent Megan Larson.
“This is such a unique first-time experience for our Little League, because we are relatively young, that our whole town has gotten behind the idea and celebrated the idea of our Little League growing and being more and more successful every year,” she said.
The adult contingent from Oregon, though a little overwhelmed by the heat – it was 65 degrees and rainy back in Wilsonville, they said – was especially interested in exploring the local culinary scene, asking for tips on where to find the best tacos.
“We were at a great restaurant last night, we’re going to a great restaurant tonight, so we’re looking forward to it,” said league president Michelle Seal.
Speaking at a Nogales City Council meeting on Tuesday, Councilman Jorge Maldonado, who also directs the tournament, touted the event as a way to provide the out-of-state visitors with a close-up look at the realities of a border community.
“They get a big education out of this,” he said.
Maldonado also spoke of the economic impact of the tournament, citing the 95 hotel rooms booked in the city for the visiting teams, and the local restaurants they would frequent. “We have seven teams spending, shopping, spending their money in our city,” he said.
Analynne Corpuz, a Hawaii team parent who is making her first trip to the region, said she and her family had already been doing “some light shopping” in town.
“We were thinking there wouldn’t be much for us to do around here, but we’ve found a few places,” she said, adding with a laugh that while they had heard a lot of Spanish, they “don’t understand it at all.”
The Intermediate Division is for youth ages 11-13. It uses a field in which the pitching rubber is 50 feet from home plate and the bases are 70 feet apart – dimensions that fall between the sizes of typical Little League and adult fields.