When the calendar rolls around to late July, Everest Park in Kirkland becomes the site of an international softball celebration.
In year 20 of the 2018 Little League Junior Softball World Series, host Redmond’s District 9 champion team will welcome squads from the United States (Southeast, Southwest, West, East and Central), Asia Pacific, Canada, Latin America and Europe/Africa.
The teams — consisting of players ages 13 to 14 — are split into two pools, and the first game will take place at 9 a.m. July 29 between Latin America and the West; Redmond will play its first game against Asia Pacific at 5:30 p.m. on the same day. The opening ceremonies will be held at noon on July 29.
The tourney will run through Aug. 4 with the ESPN2-televised championship game set for 1 p.m. Each team will play four pool games and the top four squads from each pool will advance to the next portion of the tourney. For the full game schedule, visit littleleaguejsws.org.
Admission and parking are free, and thousands of people are expected to attend the tournament at Everest (500 8th St. South), which has four fields — two for games at the tourney and two for practices during the event.
Redmond sported a 13-0 record during the regular season and defeated Eastlake, 6-3, in seven innings on June 23 to snag the district title and qualify for the World Series.
Tori Bivens, who played on three host Kirkland Junior World Series squads, was on the softball scene at Marina Park July 18 to speak with the Kirkland major all-stars at their send-off rally to the Western Regionals in California.
Her inspirational talk featured the importance of teamwork that applies to all teams in the Junior World Series and beyond.
After helping pitch her Lake Washington High team to a state title as a freshman, Bivens said, “It’s my team that I remember. That’s something people forget too much. It’s not about how you do.” It’s the practice, the conditioning and hanging out together that matters the most, she added.
Bivens encourages players to cherish their softball memories, live in the moment and love the game.
She didn’t play much during her first year at Boise State this season, but she supported her team to the fullest as the Broncos won the softball squad’s first Mountain West Conference championship.
“A good player respects their team, they love their team, and I loved it, I knew we all worked hard to get there,” she said. “When I was a freshman in high school, I couldn’t have won without my teammates’ support, ‘cause it takes every single person. It doesn’t matter if you don’t play — you’re just as important as the starting pitcher.”
According to the city of Kirkland, this year the Tourism Development Committee granted $9,000 in Lodging Tax Advisory Committee funding to support the event.
“The Junior Softball World Series brings athletes from all over the world to Kirkland every year. We are honored to welcome and host the teams and their families while they compete for the championship,” says Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen. “The experience that these girls get through their participation is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is an exciting achievement for all of the teams participating and I encourage our community to welcome and show them support by attending some exciting softball games.”
John Chadwick, tournament director for his 20th year, said the Junior World Series is a special time for the players as they conclude their junior careers before rising to the high school ranks and beyond.
“You couldn’t ask for a more fitting thing to participate in the World Series. You gotta be fired up about that,” he said.
Last year’s tournament — in which Kirkland took second — was marred by a social media incident in which Little League International disqualified the Southeast (Mechanicsville, Virginia) from playing in the title game for violating the Little League policy regarding unsportsmanlike conduct for inappropriate use of social media.
The Reporter discovered the Southeast’s blurred-out Snapchat photo online last year that featured six players flipping off the camera with a caption that read, “Watch out host.” (Kirkland was the host team.) The photo was posted before the semifinal between Kirkland and the Southeast — in which Mechanicsville won, 1-0 — and was discovered following the game. The photo was removed and the Southeast players apologized to Kirkland’s squad that night. The story made national headlines and was discussed on copious talk shows.
A Junior League Softball World Series tournament staff member announced on the morning of the final that Kirkland was to play in that game instead of the third-place matchup. Central’s Poland, Ohio, beat Kirkland, 7-1, in the final.
“(Little League International) has taken steps to make the managers aware of the consequences of social media,” Chadwick said of this year’s tourney. He added that it was an “unfortunate incident” that took place in 2017 and that “people have to learn from their mistakes that there are consequences.”