The Bradford Tigers are ready to take you out to ball game as they host the Ontario Baseball Association’s (OBA) 12U AA provincial championship this weekend at Joe Magani Park.
The tournament is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 1 and continue through Sunday, as 12 teams slug it out to be crowned the best in province.
Team manager Shawna Miller said she found out Bradford would be hosting the tournament before the seasons started in May, but the way she found out was a bit unexpected.
“It’s actually a funny story. I started getting other teams reaching out going, ‘Hey, congrats on hosting. Just wondering about hotels and information,’ and I was like, ‘I’m hosting?’” she said, explaining that other teams had found out from the OBA website that Bradford was hosting, before anyone from the association had notified the team.
Still, Miller said the news came as a welcome surprise.
“We were excited to be picked, especially because Bradford is such a growing baseball community,” she said.
While the task of hosting the tournament comes with a lot of responsibilities for organizing, planning and scheduling, Miller said being selected as the host also meant that Bradford was guaranteed a spot in the tournament, which helped alleviate some of the pressure.
“Because we were given a buy as the host, it actually took the pressure off, and allowed us to really use the season to dial in some of our positions and to play around with our pitchers,” she said.
While this is the Tigers’ fifth year playing rep baseball, Miller said the 12U AA team has only been playing for two years.
“Some of the boys have played elsewhere before and some of the boys have never played rep baseball before, so we’re really a growing team and every year we get better. ... As a young team and a growing organization it is really exciting to be able to play and host this calibre of baseball,” she said.
Of the 18 affiliates or “loops” within the association, eight have a total of 27 12U AA teams, who play against each other in their own loops to earn a spot in the tournament.
This year’s tournament uses a double elimination system, meaning any team who loses two games is eliminated, until just the provincial champion remains.
In addition to Bradford, other teams include: Waterdown, Guelph, Whitby, Oakville, Barrie, Sarnia, St. Thomas, Woodstock, Aurora, Leaside, and Ancaster.
While strategies vary from team to team, Miller emphasized the importance of pitching to finding success in a tournament.
“We have five or six really strong pitchers and then we’ve got some great relief, and some different pitching. Some kids throw side arm which really messes with kids, and some kids throw slower which messes with their tempo and then we’ve got a few aces that are our go-tos, but everybody pitches in to get through a tournament like this,” she said.
Miller explained arm-care regulations mean young players can only pitch so many times and a player pitching can’t play certain other positions in the same game.
“It’s like a puzzle trying to figure out who can play where and what position,” she said.
Depending on how quickly a team meets their first loss and enters the losing bracket, and depending on how long they hold on afterwards, Miller said a team could end up playing as many as six games during the tournament.
This presents coaches with some tough choices, as everyone wants to play hard enough to make it through the first day, but also needs to be able to compete the following days.
“Every game gets potentially harder, so you don’t want to have blown your top pitchers in your first day and have nobody left, but you don’t want to blow a game in the first day and go home without your top pitchers even going in,” Miller said.
In addition to the strategic gameplay, attendees can also expect food trucks, the Bradford Lions Club barbecue, and an ice cream truck is expected to be there as well.
In addition, team sponsor Sport Clips, plans to be there etching players’ team numbers into their hair.
While there is no official rain date, the tournament could be extended into Monday to make up for lost games if necessary, according to Miller
“Because we have so many diamonds at Magani, we have the option of expanding and we can play around with it, which is nice,” she said.