Wally Sanderson Memorial Big Ball Tournament is an unqualified success
The annual Big Ball tournament, held at the Carbondale Little League field, has been a community-supported Labor Day weekend event for decades.
Named the Wally Sanderson Memorial Big Ball Tournament in honor of the late long-time manager and association member, has featured a time-tested successful formula of volunteerism and competitive, yet friendly play on the field.
This has made it a holiday destination to socialize with family and friends.
While fans enjoy the four-day event, it takes a herculean effort to pull off a 45 team, around the clock tournament.
Concession stand workers, clean-up grounds crew, logistics of game schedules, coordination of supplies, grounds crew for field, entertainment coordination and umpires are a few of the necessities that are streamlined into a successful event.
This year, Len Harvey and John Patterson handled perhaps, the most important duties of the tournament: umpiring.
In years past, players, whose team was not playing in that particular game, and a few other volunteers would handle umpiring duties. Inevitably, time would be wasted between some games trying to get someone to step into the thankless umpire role.
Plus, players umpiring other teams' games just didn't provide a comfort zone for the player-turned-ump.
This year, Harvey and Patterson handled nearly 40 straight games from Friday night through Monday morning. Both are veteran Little League umpires. Players got familiar with the umps, and their personalities which made for smoother games.
"The biggest challenge is umpiring the bases because there is always going to be close plays," said Patterson.
With players spending a lot of time at the event, battling in the field, then watching other games while socializing with family and friends, and the umpires spending plenty of time on their feet and seeing many types of personalities on the field, some games are more difficult than others.
The players realize they are there to have fun but most of them are former athletes who will always be competitive in nature.
"Sometimes when the competitive juices are flowing and there is a close play, our decision can't make both teams happy," said Harvey. "That's the toughest part."
Going straight through from Friday night through Monday morning with just delayed games as their only respite, the question begged to be asked. What will the umps do when they finish their round the clock stint.
"I'm going to bed," said Harvey. "I have to go to work," added Patterson,
With the tournament the largest fund-raiser for the Little League, concession stands had to be stocked with volunteer workers.
Kyle Rossetti, league president, couldn't put a number on the amount of hours he worked the food stand over four days but said: "I know I drank at least eight pots of coffee."
April Mushow put her number of hours at about 48 for the weekend. Kim Dimick and Rhian Tate also put their fair share of hours. Joe Tolerico rarely left the park the entire weekend.
This year, weather provided a challenge for the committee. Games were postponed at about 3 a.m. Sunday morning for a handful of hours, forcing the committee to contact teams on time changes and put some contests on other fields at Russell Park in an attempt to get back on schedule.
The remainder of the tourney was behind schedule but that did not affect the enthusiasm of the teams. While the weather had some affect on the crowd size Sunday evening and beyond, it did not dampen the overall success.
With the rain upsetting the schedule from early Sunday morning forward, the final handful of games to determine a champion were played long after the tournament had ended in previous years.
Frank's/AJ's met Young Guns in the Unbeaten Bracket final at about 7 pm Monday while Advanced Flooring Systems faced Oprisko's in a Survivors Bracket semi.
Young Guns, champions in 2006, 2011-12-13-14 and 2016, hang their hats on nearly flawless play in the field and timely hitting.
Frank's/ AJ's, the elder statesmen of the tourney each year who won some titles over the last dozen seasons with that same formula, struggled in the field in this battle and lost to the Young Guns.
Advanced Flooring Systems, a younger mix of players, defeated Oprisko's, another team that usually makes a deep run in the tourney, prior to the Young Guns vs. Frank's/AJ's battle.
A slight glitch in the schedule, which had the Unbeaten Bracket Final played after the Survivor Bracket Semi-Final meant Advanced Flooring sat a game after their win over Opriskos. The Unbeaten Bracket final loser had to swing right back into action against Advanced Flooring System.
Frank's/AJ's were seemingly out of gas in the 8:15 showdown with AFS and AFS continued their hot play with a convincing win to eliminate Frank's/AJ's.
Young Guns just needed a win in the 9:15 pm battle against AFS for the crown or, in a second game at 10 pm if necessary.
AFS blew past Young Guns to force a winner take all battle. Young Guns led 5-2 when they decided to pitch to AFS hitter, Geoff Demming with two runners on base.
Demming, who is a Lakeland athlete alum, made Young Guns, who have mostly Lakeland athlete alumni on their roster, pay when they decided to pitch to him. Demming blasted a three-run homer to tie the game and ignite a 5-0 surge as AFS roared back for a 7-5 title win.
AFS came from behind in a few games during the tournament including a rally from a 4-0 deficit in one game in the last two innings to win in extra innings.