Touching Base

The city of Kutno once more brought together Junior and Little baseball players from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa (all, oddly enough, included in the European Region!) this July and August, when it played host to three of Europe's most prestigious baseball tournaments - the Transatlantic Regional, the Junior League Regional and the Little League European Regional. These were held in the Little League Baseball European Leadership and Training Center, which this year welcomed some new additions - dormitories that would be able to host up to 14 teams, and a new location for the European Regional Office. Both teams and staff appreciated these air-conditioned facilities! There are more buildings and fields to be built in the next few years, such as an administration building and dining facilities.

This year there were two tournaments for 11 to 12-year-olds. The first was the Transatlantic Regional competition, with teams composed mostly of children of military service members, embassy staff and international businesses in Little League's European Region (which also includes Africa and the Middle East). The second was the Little League European Regional tournament, with teams made up mostly of nationals from each country. Last year the two groups were joined together and one tournament was held, because only one team could advance to the Little League World Series (LLWS) - composed of teams that win the various worldwide Little League regional tournaments - in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. But this year, thanks to an increase of eight to sixteen teams playing in the LLWS tournament, there were two representatives.

The Transatlantic Regional was held July 8-15. Seven teams participated and every team played each other once with the teams with the two best records playing in the final. Saudi Arabia retained its title by beating Germany in a tight game, and so advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania held August 17- 26 .

The next tournament was the Junior League Regional Tournament, involving13 to14-year-olds. There was a mixture of true European teams and teams composed of players of different nationalities, but only one team would advance to the Junior League World Series in Taylor, Michigan. Fourteen teams - from Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina (first appearance), Bulgaria, Germany Native and Germany International, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Spain - took part. These were divided into two groups and each team would play every team in its group once. The team with the best record in each group would play in the final.

Poland, represented by the local team from Kutno, were in fine form and had the support of the local crowd. The games were very close, but after a great victory against Russia, the main group rival, the Polish team went on undefeated to win its group and progress to the final to the delight of the huge crowds of locals watching.

Germany International won the other group to set up a wonderful showdown - the local favorites from Kutno against the 2000 Champions! About 4,000 spectators in the stands watched the two teams fight for the right to represent Europe at the Junior League World Series. The Polish team scored first and never lost control of the game. Their 6-4 victory sent the local crowd crazy, as this was the first time a team from Kutno had ever won a European Regional Tournament. The victorious team from Kutno thus qualified for the Junior League World Series in the U.S. that took place August 12-18 in Taylor, Michigan. It was a great achievement for the young Poles.

The last of the three tournaments was the Little League Europe Regional for 11 to 12-year-old native European, African and Asian teams to see who would join Saudi Arabia in the LLWS in Williamsport. Thirteen teams from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Republic of Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine took part. The Republic of Georgia played brilliantly in their first appearance in Kutno and surprisingly defeated Germany in a very close semi-final. The Russians defeated Belgium and were favorites to beat Georgia in the final. Although the Georgians gave them a fight, in the end Russia's outstanding pitching and hitting gave them a 12-2 victory. Thus they advanced with Saudi Arabia to the LLWS held in Williamsport from August 17-26.