Public invited to enjoy stellar international youth baseball this July
CRYSTAL LAKE -- What do Eloy Jiménez, Tucker Barnhart, Andrew Benintendi and Heliot Ramos have in common, besides their status as Major League Baseball pros?
Years before donning their jerseys in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and San Francisco, respectively, each played ball in the McHenry County Youth Sports Association tournament, said John Streit, MCYSA board president.
"Our spectators are treated to some world-class baseball," said Streit, adding that this year's mid-July tourney is shaping up to be a grand slam. Sixty-eight teams were signed up as of mid-June, including eight international teams from three countries and 19 out-of-state teams, some from as far away as California. Competitions will take place in 11U, 13U and 15U age categories in two sessions, the first being July 15-18 and the second July 21-24.
"This year's participation levels are higher than they have been going back all the way to 2018," Streit said of the tournament that takes place on fields across Crystal Lake, Woodstock and McHenry. "It's shaping up to be better than 2019, the last year before the pandemic."
MCYSA has hosted a summer international tournament since 1993. Once affiliated with the Continental Amateur Baseball Association, or CABA, it has evolved into a successful independent tournament, Streit said.
This year's international contingent will include teams from Puerto Rico and Mexico, as well as a national team from Japan.
"Members of the Japanese team are from the Little Senior Baseball Association," Streit said. "They pick one 15U team from 25,000 high school students from across the country to play in our tournament."
Japanese team members are home-stayed. Nine home-stay families have signed up; MCYSA still could use a couple more. Anyone interested in becoming a home-stay family should reach out via the association's email address, MCYSA1993@gmail.com.
Streit said tournament coordinators are thrilled to see player participation levels climbing. They'd love to see the return of greater numbers of spectators to go along with it. There is no cost to watch games or to attend associated ceremonies, including opening ceremonies the first night of both sessions and an Armed Forces Night on July 17. All ceremonies take place at Lippold Park, 851 Route 176, Crystal Lake.
Opening ceremonies will take place about 7 p.m. July 15 and 21, and include a parade of teams, local politicians throwing out the first pitch and fireworks, Streit said. Game schedules will be posted on mcysasports.org when they are firmed up in July.
"I remember when my sons played in this tournament between 2003 and 2010," Streit said. "Night games at Lippold would attract hundreds of spectators.
"That has really dropped off," he continued. "And that's a shame, because there is so much more than great baseball to see. It's a very cool cultural event.
"Watching the fans from Puerto Rico, for example ... they're singing, playing cowbells ... when we have the parade of teams, they really get into it," Streit said. "And the teams from Japan that have come -- when they play, if a pitcher hits a batter, he walks up to the batter and bows [in contrition]. When they approach an umpire, they take off their hat.
"It's just really interesting to see how the different cultures play out on the field, and how their fans interact in the stands," he added. "Between games the international players enjoy interacting with the local players and people from the community. There's some team pin trading that goes on."
And, who knows, those attending this summer's tournament may one day be able to say they watched the next Eloy Jiménez, Tucker Barnhart, Andrew Benintendi or Heliot Ramos in the making.