BY JEFF FALK
There aren’t too many state champions crowned here in little Lebanon County. But we’ll be coronating one this weekend.
Some of the top teenaged baseball talent in the state is coming to the Bologna City. And they’re not coming for the smoked beef treat, a ride through the Union Canal or a taste of shoe-fly pie.
They’re coming for the hardware.
This weekend, Lebanon will host the VFW state teener baseball tournament. The eight-team, double-elimination event will run from Friday through Monday, and will be contested mainly at Coleman Memorial Park’s ‘big field’ and secondarily at Ebenezer.
One of the perks of hosting such a tournament is an automatic entry for the home league. Representing Lebanon County will be all-stars chosen from the Lebanon City-County VFW teener league by their coaches.
“That’s a fair statement. A very fair statement,” said Fred Gonzalez, the president of the Lebanon City-County Teener League who also just happens to be the VFW state commissioner. “This is some of the most talented teenagers (14,15 and 16-year-olds) in the state. A lot of the guys who have played in this tournament have gone on to play college ball and get drafted. There’s some future baseball stars there.
“Overall, the quality of play is really good,” Gonzalez continued. “It’s always very good play at this tournament. There’s so many good ball games. They’re all all-stars.”
But not only does Gonzalez expect the Lebanon City-County club, which finished as the runner-up at the recent Region Three area tournament, to play the role of the gracious host, he also expects it to represent the locale with passion.
“I’ve been around a long time,” said Gonzalez. “And I think we have a team to win it. Our pitching could be a little deeper. But our top four are very good. We’ve been hitting the crap out of the ball. And we’re a scrappy team.
“I expect we’re going to fare fairly well,” added Gonzalez. “I expect us to go deep into the tournament. It all depends on who we play and how they (the players) play. We want to win, but if we finished third or second that would be great for a host team.”
Lebanon City-County will begin play in the tournament on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Coleman Park, in the final game of an opening-day quadruple-header. City-County will take on Schuylkill East.
Suburban America and Schuylkill South will open the event on Friday at 9 a.m. at Coleman’s. The championship game of the tournament is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, while the ‘if necessary’ game will follow.
Also competing will be Clearfield, Bald Eagle, Altoona and Punxsutawney.
“The team we play in the first round is the defending state champion,” said Gonzalez. “But the team from Bald Eagle, that is the team to beat. They were the runner-up last year and they have three-quarters of their team back. Those boys are hungry, and they’re fast. They make plays and hit the ball well.”
There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes when staging a tournament like the State VFW Teener. More than 20 sponsors were secured to offset costs.
But the event possesses the ability to inject much-needed tourist dollars into the local enconomy.
“The best part of it is that our boys get a chance to play in a state tournament,” said Gonzalez. “Baseball isn’t the best it can be locally. This helps boost the sport of baseball in the community.”