Thursday, April 24, 2014
Butch Cunningham doesn't want to think more than an inning or two ahead of time, but it's hard not to when it comes to the Central Maine Babe Ruth all-stars.
Cunningham has followed and coached many of the same players since they were 7 years old. The players, who come from Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Oakland, have won state championships nearly every step of the way. Cunningham coached the 13-year-old to a state title and last year led the 14-year-olds to within a game of the New England championship. This year he moves up to coach the 15-year-old team, which will be an odds-on favorite to repeat.
"They're a focused group of kids," Cunningham said. "They expect to win, the parents expect to win and I expect to win."
The district tournament begins July 11 in Farmington and the state Babe Ruth tournament will be held in Auburn. July is the month for baseball and softball playoffs and some are already under way or completed.
The District 5 Little League tournament for 9-10 year-olds has already started and is being played at various fields throughout the district. Later this week, the 10-11 and 11-12 year-old District 5 all-star teams get started. The State Little League tournament will be held in Augusta this year.
"We're kind of excited for it," said Rusty Hopkins, who is co-vice president of the league and an all-star coach. "We feel we have a good complex with two good fields and we also have lights."
Many of the Cal Ripken district tournaments are completed, according to state commissioner Barry Jordan. The division, comparable to Little League ages, has grown since its beginnings in 2000.
"Now we have 38 leagues," Jordan said. "We've more than doubled."
State tournaments for 10-U and 12-U Cal Ripken divisions begin July 6 in Berwick and Bowdoinham, respectively. The 9-U and 11-U divisions are open tournaments which begin July 20. Skowhegan is hosting the 9-U tournament which features 20 teams.
"It will be the largest tournament we've ever had in Maine in Cal Ripken," Jordan said.
Softball tournaments around the state are under way, completed or about to start. Sunday at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine Thunder defeated Messalonskee Magic 9-0 to win the 16U-A ASA state title. Also Sunday in Waterville, Old Town defeated Brewer 9-1 to win the 16U-B state championship. The two main sanctioning bodies are the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) and Cal Ripken. Players who wish to can play for both organizations.
"Softball seems to be coming along really well," Jordan said. "We've tripled the number of softball leagues in the last three years. A lot of parents who have a daughter see what's happening to their sons in the Cal Ripken (baseball leagues)."
Winthrop is hosting 10--U and 12-U Cal Ripken softball state tournaments, beginning Friday. Winners advance to New England competition in Pittsfield, Mass. at the end of July. Jordan has umpired at two Cal Ripken World Series and last year was director for the 12-under softball World Series in Florida. The key to running a successful tournament, he said, is organization and communication. And not forgetting the bottom line.
"It's about letting the kids play the game and having fun," he said.
Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638