BIB Tournament Brings Spotlight To Shepherd
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 2, 2014, 09:29
Windsor and the Chesterfield Nationals line up on the baselines prior to their game Thursday night.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — After a lengthy American Legion baseball season, all eyes will on Shepherd Stadium once again as 16 youth All-Star teams diverge on the facility, bringing with them the biggest crowds of the year.
No, this isn't the Little League World Series, but it's as close as the 12-and-under baseball teams will come to playing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with the freshly manicured dirt, high stands, radio broadcasts of every game and introductions before each at-bat. It's all part of the 57th Boys Invitational Baseball Tournament hosted by the Optimist Club of Colonial Heights which lasts until August 9.
The tournament features some local flavor with teams from Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Prince George and even last year's champion the Chesterfield Nationals, along with other squads from across the state. And the reasoning behind why the BIB may be one of the most popular tournaments may come down to its unique set of rules which includes a single-eliminatuon style of game.
"Our tournament is very unique," Tournament Director David Wells said after the first game featuring Windsor and Chesterfield Thursday night. "It's a single-elimination tournament which is not common for things like this and it's not open to travel ball teams. You need to be a part of your recreational program to play in it."
However, the BIB's greatest appeal may be the facility itself.
Shepherd Stadium's grass seems to be as green as the fields baseball fans come across on television throughout Major League Baseball. The dirt is constantly fixed and makes for perfect playing conditions and the grandstand seating which towers over the first and third base lines leave the young ballplayers in awe.
And it was that type of scenario which played itself out during the introductions of the visiting team from Windsor. The players lined the third base line as each of their names were introduced on over the roaring speakers and as they reached their spot along the line, their heads gazed around them as they eyed the stands. They looked toward the backstop and saw it made out of bricks much like in Camden Yards. Their excitement to be on the field and in front of one of the biggest crowds Shepherd Stadium has had all season was noticeable to all.
Wells said seeing that type of joy along the kid's face and having the parents snap pictures is what makes the tournament worthwhile and he knows it's the facility which plays a big part in the happiness.
"Being able to play in this facility itself is a big deal," Wells said. "Being 11 or 12 years old, even myself growing up here in Colonial Heights, we used to always love coming to Shepherd to play here. It's a stadium feel."
Chesterfield pitcher Brandon Arrowood tossed three innings of one-hit ball in the Nationals 12-0 win.
The stadium appeal makes the game even more pleasurable for those in attendance as well. In an era of baseball where talks about performance enhancers are common, it's a refreshing scene to see precocious children enjoy the game. They don't take in the outside talk of how the game is losing popularity compared to other sports, they just take the field and have fun.
And it's tournaments like the BIB which may also help to save recreational baseball. Recreational leagues around the country have seen participation levels drop as those in AAU or travel ball spike. The increased competition which comes with travel ball and the specialization of sports has brought about a new era of baseball.
No longer is the game a one season sport for children with new sports being played as the calendar flips. Instead, it's a 12-month-a-year game with children and parents intent on catching the eyes of talent evaluators across the country. Yet, the BIB is not a part of that model.
Instead, it highlights the fact recreational ball is still an important part of a child's development. Instead of playing in just the highly-competitive world of travel ball, they can also play in recreational ball while playing against other kids within their community. It's a way for them to enjoy the game which is what the BIB Tournament is all about.
Ethan Iannucci slides in before the tag for a two-run double in the 1st inning for the Nationals
"This is probably the closest a lot of these kids are going to get to the Little League World Series," Wells explained. "I've never been to Williamsport to watch it, but I compare this facility to that ... the games are on radio and we announce the players as they get to the plate, that's something they don't get all the time. We try to make it feel like a professional game for them."
Much like a professional tournament, there will be just one winner, but the nine-day tournament isn't just about winning and losing. It's about playing baseball in front of friends and family while bringing smiles to a child's face.