SPORTS: Wilder Baseball opens against Illinois at World Series

WEIMAR, Texas — The good news is that the temperature won’t be in the triple digits for the first few days of World Series competition for Wilder Baseball.

The bad news is that it will be as close to triple digits as can be without being triple digits at least through Sunday.

There are no games today for Wilder as its players and coaches can get a little used to the hot southeast Texas weather during opening ceremonies for the 2012 Babe Ruth Baseball 16-18 World Series at 4 p.m. PDT, 6 p.m. CDT.

The ceremonies are set for Weimer Veterans’ Park, Strickland Field.

Predictions are that temperatures will climb to 95 degrees today and Saturday, hit a high of 99 Sunday and then cool down to a balmy 91 with thunderstorms Monday.

Wilder opens against the Ohio Valley regional champion, Illinois, on Saturday.

Wilder went in prepared for the hot weather, which could still be a shock after the cool, and sometimes very wet, spring and early summer on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“The key is hydration,” Wilder manager Rob Merritt said during a team practice at Civic Field in Port Angeles on Tuesday evening.

“We are already hydrating ourselves. We will continue to hydrate ourselves during the tournament.

“We also bought wrist bands so the kids can keep the moisture off their hands.”

Merritt learned the lesson the hard way when he was a player for the summer elite baseball program when it played in the 1987 World Series in Baton Rouge, La.

“They were having a heat wave at the time,” he recalled. “It was even hotter than it normally is there in the summer.”

It was 99 degrees with 98 percent humidity, Merritt said.

“It was hotter than pistols,” the 1987 Port Townsend High School graduate said.

And it was the humidity, more than the heat, that was the killer.

“We couldn’t get dry,” Merritt said.

“We had no idea what to expect. It was like walking into a sauna.”

Sapped of their energy, the Aggies (what the team was called then), went two-and-out in what was then a double-elimination tournament.

The format for the World Series, as in most postseason tourneys now, has changed to a pool format followed by a championship bracket for the top pool teams to battle it out for the Series title.

It will help that Wilder will play no more than one game per day though the team’s bye won’t come until it plays four days in a row.

Pool play starts today with one game, then continues Saturday through Wednesday.

Single-elimination bracket play starts Thursday, Aug. 2, and goes through Aug. 4 when the new World Series champion will be crowned.

Mobile, Ala., will not be back to defend its 2011 title.

Instead, Matthews Park, Ala., will represent the Southeast region.

There will be two pools of five teams each. The top three squads from each pool will move on to bracket play.

Wilder (20-13), the Pacific Northwest champion, is in the National Division with Cape Cod, Mass., the New England regional champion; Lansing, Ill., the Ohio Valley regional champion; Mid County, Texas, the Southwest regional champion; and Eagle Pass, Texas, the Southern Texas state champion.

In the American Division is host team Texas Tri-Counties; Onondaga, N.Y., the Middle Atlantic regional champion; Matthews Park, Ala., the Southeast regional champion; Bismarck, N.D., the Midwest Plains regional champion; and Modesto, Calif., the Pacific Southwest regional champion.

The tourney opens today with host Texas Tri-Counties taking on Onondaga, N.Y., at 5:30 p.m. PDT.

Most of the other teams open play Saturday with Wilder taking on Lansing, Ill., starting at 8:30 a.m. PDT.

Then on Sunday, Wilder plays Cape Cod, Mass., at 8:30 a.m. PDT.

Wilder plays later during a hotter part of the day Monday when it battles Mid County, Texas, at 11:30 a.m. PDT.

Wilder concludes pool play Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. against Eagle Pass, Texas.

The North Olympic Peninsula team has a bye Wednesday before starting bracket play Thursday, Aug. 2.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Wilder players and coaches.

Despite the strong heat and killing humidity of Baton Rouge, Merritt mostly has fond memories of the World Series in 1987.

“The best part is that the kids will stay in the homes of local families, and they will build relationships that will last a lifetime,” Merritt said.

“I still keep in touch with people I met in Baton Rouge.”

That means that players will get a taste of local food customs.

Merritt remembers eating Cajun and seafood while in Louisiana.

“Grits was not my favorite,” he said.

“I heard there would be a lot of barbecue and Mexican food in Texas.”

Another good thing about the World Series is that Wilder will be representing not only the North Olympic Peninsula and the state of Washington, but also the entire Pacific Northwest region while in Texas.

“That is quite an honor, representing the entire region,” Merritt said.

Wilder players said that playing in the World Series will be like living a dream.

“It’s awesome,” Marcus Konopaski of Port Angeles said about playing in the Series.

“It’s a dream come true.”

“It feels good [about playing in the World Series],” Kyle Kelly of Port Townsend said. “We’re preparing for the heat and we will be ready.”

“It feels great to be in the World Series,” Sequim’s Tyler Campbell said.

“It’s pretty special [to play in the World Series],” Easton Napiontek of Port Angeles said.

And this is a pretty special Wilder team playing in the World Series, that dominated regionals with a 5-1 record and featured the top pitcher in regionals (Napiontek), the tournament MVP (Clark Rose of Silverdale), the top defender (Larsson Chapman of Port Angeles at first base) and tourney all-stars Marcus Konopaski, Justin Straight and George Marinan.

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