A local tradition is about to unfold, on a traditional stretch of the calendar, at a traditional venue.
You don’t have to be emptying the dehumidifier twice daily in these parts to realize the Pony League World Series is nigh. The annual championship baseball tournament for 13- and 14-year-olds, and accompanying events, will take place Aug. 10-15 in and around Washington. The games will be contested at Lew Hays Field in Washington Park.
Pony baseball was founded in Washington in 1951, and evolved into an international endeavor. It is governed by Pony Baseball and Softball, a nonprofit organization headquartered in North Franklin Township, a long home run from Wild Things Park.
The series alone is a big event, featuring 10 teams from around the globe. There will be a regional flavor, with one qualifier being the host team from Washington County, another from within a 75-mile radius of the city of Washington. The remainder of the field will be made up four U.S. squads – champions of the Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern zone tournaments – along with zone titlists from Mexico, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Caribbean.
These games will attract generous crowds, but the series has been gaining visibility beyond that. AT&T SportsNet, the local network of the Pittsburgh Pirates, will televise five Pony series games, including the host team’s encounter with the East Zone champ at noon Aug. 11 and the title joust on Aug. 15. All contests will be video streamed in high-definition in a partnership with mlb.com, be aired on WJPA radio 1450-AM, and be covered by the Observer-Reporter, another major sponsor, which also will tweet on the action.
That is comprehensive coverage.
There also will be a number of non-tournament events during the week, including a Home Run Derby, Fastest Runner contests and a salute to veterans.
Dick’s Sporting Goods gave the series a further boost, extending its three-year sponsorship another three years. Bob Gregg, chairman of World Series Tournaments Inc. since 1984, told O-R assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano that the Robinson Township-based firm’s support “puts us on solid footing.”
The Pony series, however, is more than a public relations bonanza for this area. Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Promotion Agency, estimated that the event has a $2 million impact on the local economy – an impressive amount, especially considering this is a six-day event.
“We’re talking lodging, meals, shopping and entertainment opportunities,” said Gregg, who is quite familiar with the routine. “Eight teams of 18 players and coaches have to be housed, fed and transported, and parents, aunts, uncles and siblings may come along. Asia Pacific and Austria won’t bring a lot of fans; the U.S. teams bring a lot.”
Another August is approaching, along with another Pony extravaganza. This is a time for Washington, and Washington County, to shine. Gregg, who is in charge of quality control for the series, realizes the important of being ready for the spotlight.
“This event is vital to who we are,” he said. “It weaves into the fabric of what this community is.”