By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
After nearly 30 years away, the State Little League Tournament returns to Cederquist Park next month.
“Hopefully, it will be a blast,” Ashtabula Little League park chairman Frank Cole said. “We’ve actually started to prep the fields. We’re doing the every-day stuff right now. We’re trying to keep the grass green, paint what needs painted.”
The tournament, which will take place between July 20-26, is just a step or two removed from the Little League World League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The winner will advance to the regional tournament, which includes also teams from Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Michigan.
“A lot of the people in the community, because we haven’t had it in so long, don’t realize exactly what it is,” Cole said. “The team that wins here has a one-in-five chance to be in Williamsport.”
It’s the first time Ashtabula has hosted the event since the early 1980s.
“It’s funny you ask that,” District 1 administrator Tony Tulino said. “We were just talking about that and we can’t come up with the date of the last time we had it. It was 1981 or 1982. Since then, Painesville has had it and Jefferson has hosted it.”
All of the district tournament winners will participate in the event, including the team that wins District 1’s event.
“Hamilton will have an excellent team,” Cole said. “They have the stats to prove it year in and year out. It doesn’t matter if it’s this year or 10 years ago. Wheelersburg is the same way. We’re talking teams in the corners of the state but they’re areas that always have good teams.
“We’ll compete. As with anything else in sports, to be the best, everybody still needs to have a horseshoe (for luck) along the way.”
Ashtabula has hosted other state tournaments in different age groups and the area has always been received well. Many of the teams that come to play here use the trip for a vacation as much as they do to play ball.
“When teams are knocked out and are leaving the facility, they’ve always come up and said how they enjoyed how they were treated here in the past, whether it be getting directions, or tips on where to go for fun or even where to find restaurants,” Cole said.
“They talk about how great it was that people helped them. Most people, both the parents and the kids, thought the greatest thing was that we had Walnut Beach and Lake Shore Park just up the road.”
Those attractions, as well as many others in the area, help the players get past the sting of defeat as well as celebrate victories.
“It’s a whole lot of fun to win, but as soon as they leave the dugout, want to know when they can go to the beach or get to the park.”
For Cole, who has had plenty of experience coaching in tournaments like the one he is hosting on a number of different levels, the Little League experience can’t be topped.
“From my experience, being a coach for a long time, I truly realize the competition of Legion ball and elite travel ball is better,” he said. “But I realize the whole idea behind Little League, whether it’s the girls or the boys, is truly far more family oriented. With the other levels, the coaches and players don’t have the time to enjoy the game itself.
“With Little League, the main objective is having fun. That truly sticks out.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.