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July 26. 2013 9:45PM

John Habib's City Sports: No banquet, just baseball

Gary Ulbin had no appetite for a banquet to welcome participants in the Babe Ruth League Baseball (13-year-olds) New England Regional tournament.

Instead, the director of the Manchester Babe Ruth League decided, bringing the eight teams together at Gill Stadium for a home run derby contest Friday night would be more entertaining.

"I have nothing against banquets, but sometimes kids find them boring —listening to someone they don't even know telling old baseball stories," Ulbin said earlier this week. "I got the idea of holding team competitions from a regional we were competing in Connecticut. I noticed the kids were into it and having fun. I said we should try it."

This being the centennial of Gill Stadium made maximizing the ballpark all the more appealing, Ulbin added.

"I just thought it would be neat for other communities around New England to visit the stadium," he said. "There's so much history here."

The games themselves begin today at 10 a.m., with Central Main facing Western Mass. Three more first-round contests follow: New Hampshire champion Bedford vs. Eastern Mass. winner Plymouth at 1 p.m.; Brattleboro, Vt., vs. New Milford, Conn., at 4 p.m.; and host Manchester vs. Coventry, R.I. at 8 p.m.

Four more games in the double-elimination tournament are scheduled for Sunday, two each for Monday and Tuesday, and one, the losers'-bracket final, for Wednesday. Wednesday's championship round begins at 5 p.m., with a second game at 8 if necessary.

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BEDFORD manager Kevin Lavigne mentioned the advantage Manchester and his team have of sleeping in their own beds for the tournament.

"We stay in our normal routine we just went through in the district and state tournaments," Lavigne said. "We can hold batting practice in our own park before the game and take the 10-minute ride to the stadium. We're also going to have great fan support throughout the tournament. It can only help us."

Lavigne said his team will keep coach Cary Buxton in their thoughts while he's home recovering from surgery during the regional.

"He's coached in Bedford for nearly 20 years, and has done so much for the kids and league," Lavigne said. "We wish him a speedy and healthy recovery."

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IF Manchester or Bedford goes far into the tournament, Ulbin said, he believes attendance will total around 2,500 for the 15-game schedule.

"That's the goal, and I think it's attainable if one or both of the local teams are still playing by next Wednesday or Thursday," he said.

Daily admission is $4 for adults and $2 for students. Passes for the entire tournament are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students.
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FOR THE first time during his tenure as director, Ulbin said, Manchester will not have host families housing the visiting teams.

"It's sad, but it's become a thing of the past," said Ulbin. "On one hand, most parents don't want their kids staying with strangers. The other thing is, it's harder to get host families."
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BABE RUTH Baseball's national office gave Ulbin the option of running a round-robin regional, which would guarantee all eight teams at least three games in a two-division format. In that scenario, the top two teams in each division's round robin advance to the semifinals, with the winners playing a single championship game.

"We've always done double-elimination, and I stuck with tradition," said Ulbin. "I understand each team gets to play at least three games in round robin, but there's something about watching a team climb out of the losers' bracket and winning the whole tournament. That's the beauty of double-elimination. In round robin, you could go undefeated in your division, then lose in the semifinals and go home with one loss. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth."

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ULBIN said there's a possibility the Manchester Babe Ruth League could eliminate the 13-year-olds division next year.

"We only had enough kids to fill three team rosters this year on the 13-year-olds level," he said. "We'll have to wait until next spring to see if the sign-ups increase. If not, we'll become a 13- to15-year-olds Babe Ruth League, like we were back in the 1970s. We'll still have all-star teams (Woodlocks, Hanagans, Lebels) for the three levels, but only one league for the regular season."

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UMPIRES working the regional tournament include umpire-in-chief Phil Croasdale of Manchester and fellow Queen City officials Gary Simpson, Jack Caron, Tom Fischer and Chuck Wiggin. Gary Noyes of Rochester, Steve Drescher of Nashua, and Matt O'Malley of Derry round out the crew.

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BASEBALL will continue at Gill Stadium next Saturday at noon, when the New Hampshire American Legion program hosts its annual season-ending game pitting state championship team against an all-star team composed of 18- and 19-year-old players from around the state. A game featuring 16- and 17-year-old all-stars will take place that day at 9 a.m.

"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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