Last summer, Rhode Island became a destination for 9/10-year-old Little League Baseball when Cranston Western hosted the first-ever 9/10 East Region Invitational.
Now, Cranston is taking steps to remain a destination for a long time.
In the winter, Little League officials met with board members at Cranston Western and expressed a desire to bring the event back to Rhode Island. After some deliberation, Western signed on for this year’s event, which begins Saturday. At the same time, the league set plans in motion to turn Michael P. Varrato Field into a facility worthy of a premier event.
“Little League said they got rave reviews about last year and they really wanted us to continue with it,” said Western vice president Gary Bucci. “We gave it some thought and decided to move forward with it. We learned a lot last year, and this tournament is something that allows us to do a lot for our league. The goal is to make Varrato field similar to what they have in Bristol.”
Bristol is Bristol, Conn., home of the Little League East Region headquarters and a mecca for Little League teams from Maryland to Maine. Bristol is the destination for 12-year-old teams, the last stop before the Little League World Series.
Rhode Island and Cranston may soon have a similar profile for 9/10-year-old baseball.
“It sounds like it’s ours to keep as long as we do a good job with it,” Bucci said. “There’s no question that we want to make it a destination. There’s talk of TV coverage as soon as 2012 or 2013, so we really want to see it through and keep going forward with it.”
Last year’s event was a success by all accounts. Western’s own all-star squad won the state championship for a spot in the tournament, which added to the excitement. Western joined teams from 10 other states. Connecticut’s Fairfield American won the championship.
“We didn’t know what to expect going into it last year, but I think it was a good event,” Bucci said. “Having our team there was great and I think that created more excitement. We had good crowds. Teams traveled well. And the level of play was a little better than what I thought it was going to be.”
For the teams, the tournament was undoubtedly a hit. Warwick had a hand in the success, as well. Teams stayed at the Crowne Plaza and used Continental’s field for practices.
“I know I speak for the coaches and parents from the other 10 states when I say that the people of Cranston were just terrific all week,” said Bill Meury, manager of the winning Connecticut team. “And the CWLL ran an excellent tournament. It was perfect in every respect.”
The tournament features champions from the 11 states that encompass the New England and Mid-Atlantic Regions. Teams will begin in Mid-Atlantic and New England Pool Play. The top two teams from the Mid-Atlantic will then play each other in a single-elimination game and the top two teams from the New England pool will do the same. The winners of those games will meet in the championship on Saturday, August 6, 2011.
The tournament’s success had Western thinking big when it came to improving Varrato Field. Plans were drawn up over the winter and many of the enhancements will already be on display this summer.
“It’s going to be a beautiful facility,” Bucci said.
Beacon Communications will once again provide coverage of the tournament online at cranstonbound.com. The tourney begins with a full slate of games on Saturday, starting with Pennsylvania taking on Delaware at 10:30 a.m. Maine plays Connecticut at 1 p.m. and New Jersey meets New York at 3:30 before opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. Massachusetts meets Rhode Island champion Lincoln Little League at 7:30 p.m.