By Karen Mansfield
By Karen Mansfield
When the 15 young men on the Washington Pony League World Series team trot onto Lew Hays Field Aug. 10, they will line up opposite the European Zone champion team from London.
It will be the first time – and perhaps the only time – in their baseball careers the Washington County ballplayers will play against international players.
“I’ve always wanted to play on the team,” said Max Dotson, a catcher for the 2019 Washington team. “It’s just a totally different experience, meeting people from different places. It’s a special event. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The opportunity to compete among the field of 10 of the best Pony League 14-and-under baseball teams – and some of the best young baseball players in the world – in the marquee event is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the boys, said Carson Fox, multimedia manager for PONY Baseball and Softball.
“I really think that’s the beauty of the World Series: taking teams from all over the globe, who are for seven days smack dab in the middle of Washington, Pa., participating in events both on the field and off the field,” said Fox. “Yes, everybody wants to win, but at the end of the day, it’s sport. The most important thing, I think, is the relationships they form that will last for decades and the memories they make that will last a lifetime.”
In addition to the United Kingdom, participants in the 2019 tournament come from Chinese Taipei and Guasave, a city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Baseball, it turns out, remains a great way to unify many, a universal language that brings together players and fans with different histories and cultures.
“The whole idea of kids coming from all over the world and playing in an international tournament to win a world title seems kind of larger than life,” said first-year head coach Ben Miller, who pitched and caught for Waynesburg University. “This group appreciates the experience. They aren’t taking it for granted.”
The Washington Pony League World Series team is comprised of players from Washington Youth Baseball and Canon-Mac Youth Baseball. On the roster for the 2019 Washington team are Nick Blanchette, Hunter Campbell, Calvin Daniels, Luke Dantry, Max Dotson, Jake Egizio, Mason Fixx, Connor Helbling, Tyler Johnson, Andrew Kocan, Nick Kopec, Mike Mansfield, Matthew Smith, Tyler Smith and Vinny Sutherland.
Daniels, a third baseman and pitcher, has attended the Pony League World Series with his father since he was about 6 years old. He long ago set his sights on being a part of the Washington team.
“I really like that there are other teams from across the world that you get to compete against in a sport that we all love,” said Daniels, who recalled sitting with members of the Japanese team when he was 8. “I couldn’t understand them, but we had fun. It brings us all together.”
PONY organizers hold several events that enable the teams, who will compete for the championship from Aug. 9-15, to interact.
The players will appear Aug. 8 at Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Fan Fest at its Washington store, where they will greet fans and mingle with the Pirate Parrot and Bucco Brigade. They will share a meal at the annual Breakfast of Champions. They’ll participate in Play Ball, a collaborative event sponsored by Major League Baseball at Wild Things Park Aug. 14 to encourage youngsters to play baseball or softball. Representatives from all of the teams will participate in the home run derby and fastest runner contest Aug. 9.
Additionally, teams exchange small gifts with their opponent before the first game.
The 2017 Washington team received T-shirts from its opponent, Netherlands, and presented the European players with a gift bag of local items including Sarris candy.
Dale Lolley, who was a coach for the 2011 Washington Pony team on which his son Noah played, said the tournament is unique because of the international participants.
“There is a lot of interaction between the teams. It gives them a chance to see what someone from the other side of the world is like,” said Lolley. “They all have that one common interest: baseball. Maybe they don’t speak the same language, but they speak baseball.”
As the host team, Washington County gets an automatic spot in the tournament.
The last time the Washington host team won the Pony League World Series was in 1955. Monongahela is the only other Washington County team to win the World Series, in 1954.
The current Washington team is excited – and admittedly a bit nervous – to represent Washington County. And the boys are playing to win.
“There is pressure on the guys because they are the hometown team, and they want to play well in front of everybody,” said Miller. “We’re preparing to win. We’re expecting to win. The external pressures can get blown out of proportion though, and I keep reminding them it’s a game. We will prepare, and we will be ready. I want the guys to go out and win five games. But I want them to play right. They’re ambassadors representing Washington County, and we need them to behave like gentlemen. If we go out and play perfectly and the teams we play are better, you can’t control that. We can control how we prepare and how we act.”
It’s the biggest game, in front of the most massive crowd, that many will ever play in, said Lolley.
“It’s a big deal. They grew up seeing and hearing about how other Washington teams did, and they want to measure themselves against the teams that have been there in the past,” he said. “The games are televised, the stands are full, and there’s no doubt about it, it’s a different feeling.”
Connor McMahon, a junior at Canon-McMillan High School, played right field and pitched for the 2017 Washington Pony League team. The crew won its first game against the Netherlands and then lost on the final play of a game to Brownsville, Texas, when a runner at third base avoided a tag at home plate by leaping over the catcher and scoring the game-winning run.
The play appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
McMahon said the World Series experience has been among the most memorable of his life.
“I’ve made lifelong friends with the kids that were on the team, and it was really interesting seeing different kids from different backgrounds and finding ways to interact with them. And I loved playing in front of the giant crowd,” said McMahon. “It was a great experience.”