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Growth Spurt: New Little League Baseball® World Series Teams Show that Baseball Expansion in Australia and Europe
By George Thompson
In 2012, Africa made history when they qualified their first team for the Little League Baseball® World Series. This year, Czech Republic and Australia are the new kids in South Williamsport, Pa., each country having earned representation at the World Series for the first time, and the ride is just as thrilling for the two new managers as it is for their players.
“It’s been like a little slice of heaven,” Australia manager Glen Tovey said after they played an unofficial bonus game against Czech Republic on Thursday, Aug. 22, at Volunteer Stadium.
On a personal level, manager Tovey said it is a privilege being a manager for this year’s team, which includes his son, pitcher and first baseman Michael Tovey. He said there is no greater honor than representing his family and country at the same time.
The Australia champions come from Perth, a city located on the Western coast, but Tovey noted that since every single official World Series game is shown on ESPN family networks, the entire continent of Australia could watch the kids from Perth on television—possibly helping to raise Little League’s popularity in Australia.
However, in order for this to happen, the players have to play their part when they get home, as well. Tovey said the experience the players are getting in South Williamsport is something they can go back to Australia and tell all their friends about. So instead of talking about cricket, for example, they can talk about baseball and the Little League World Series. In a few short years, Australia has grown to be one of the countries with the most Little League participation.
Another manager who got to experience South Williamsport for the first time was Jan Gregor, who managed the Europe and Africa champions from Brno, Czech Republic. Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic.
“It’s a big experience and a big step,” Gregor said.
Coming to Williamsport was an especially big step for him because this is his first year as a manager; everything that was new to him in the regular season and even the Regional Tournament was magnified when playing at Little League’s® most prestigious stadium against the world’s toughest teams.
When the recreational game with Australia ended on Thursday, it would show the Czech Republic on top, and while played just for fun, Gregor was proud of his team’s second win since arriving in South Williamsport. In their cross-over consolation game on Monday, Aug. 19, they beat the Great Lakes Region from the U.S. bracket for the first official World Series win ever for a Czech Republic team, and Gregor acknowledged that the win was a big deal for the team.
He said that to come to South Williamsport and be able to compete while winning a televised game in regular tournament play is good for the country, showing that they can play with the best of them.
After the tournament is over, Gregor said he will meet with other managers and coaches in the Czech Republic and speak about everything his team has done here.
Even in their losses against Japan and Canada, Gregor felt his team performed well. Ultimately, he said that having the experience in South Williamsport serves as big motivation for next year.
For both managers, the Little League Baseball World Series has given them countless cherished memories that will last them a lifetime and, in turn, they have left their own marks on the Little League World Series. Who knows, with the spotlight these teams have shone on youth baseball in their home countries, maybe their peers back home will aspire to play their way to South Williamsport and represent Australia and Czech Republic in 2014.