AAU International Tournament
Orlando, Florida – January 21-24, 2004
LOS SOCIOS OF VENEZUELA RECLAIMS AAU INTERNATIONAL MEN’S FASTPITCH CROWN
For the second time in the last three years, the Los Socios team from Venezuela has captured the AAU International Tournament’s championship trophy, posting a perfect 6-0 record, including a 8-1 championship game win over runner-up Mexicali, Mexico. . The Sebringville Sting of Ontario Canada and Bloomington Stix of Illinois tied for third. In the Consolation bracket, Texaco Pirates from Bahamas defeated Ambassadors of British Virgin Islands.
The talented Los Socios team from Venezuela has been in the championship game the last three years, winning the tournament in 2002, and finishing as runner-up to Harter’s Falcons of Washington DC last year. Los Socios won this year’s title in convincing fashion, with a 9-1 semi-final win over Bloomington Illinois, and 8-1 title game win over previously unbeaten Mexicali, Mexico. Los Socios relied on solid veteran pitching of Ramon Bigot and Santiago Perez, stellar defense, and a potent offense led by the likes of Elis Ugeto, Jose Manillo and Jose Luis Shera.
Los Socios shortstop Elis Ugeto was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, going 4 for 4 in the title game, while teammate Santiago Perez, the winning pitcher in the championship game was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher The Championship squad included Carlos Zambrano, Jose Manillo, Luis Regnault, Lenin Rodriguez, Nick Seud, Asuncion Figuera, Carlos Ramirez, Jose Luis Shera, Pedro Gonzalez, Ramon Bigot, Florencio Bapreto, Maicoll Ruiz, Renaldo Garcia, Rob Schwand, Oblajio Pedrone and Mario Teran.
This year’s 5th Annual AAU International Men’s Fastpitch tournament was held January 22-25, 2004, at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, regarded by many as the finest softball facility in the country. “Gorgeous weather”, “Beautiful facility”, “Well organized” and “Great competition” were some of the comments heard ‘round the Disney complex during the four day tournament. The 2004 AAU tournament truly lived up to its “International” name, hosting 24 teams from a variety of countries, including Canada, Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and the United States. The top four finishers in this year’s tournament hailed from four different countries, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
The AAU International tournament began in 2000, with just 8 teams, and has grown steadily, to 24 teams this year, with talk that it could even expand to 32 teams in 2005. The AAU International event is the first big tournament of the calendar year for the fastpitch community, drawing teams from a number of countries, including a number of Caribbean region countries, as well as those in cold weather parts of North America, including Canada and the Midwest. While many back home in Canada and the Midwest and Northern United States were shoveling snow from their driveways in sub-zero weather, fastpitch teams at the AAU tournament in Orlando were enjoying beautiful sunny skies, with an opportunity to play quality, competitive fastpitch against teams that they would not normally get to see.
Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex
Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex is located in Orlando, Florida, amidst other Disney resorts such as Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, and others Disney resorts. The complex is minutes from the host and other conveniently located hotels. Florida is well known for its affordable travel and lodging facilities. The facility house four main fields, laid out in “wagon wheel” fashion, with a professional caliber two story press box in the center, which also houses the concession stand. The fields are beautifully maintained and even provide a telephone in each dugout for managers to call in their substitutions to the press box. The softball complex shares the same grounds as “Crackerjack Field”, which is used by major league baseball’s Atlanta Braves for Spring Training.
The 2004 tournament was organized jointly by Alex Linares, of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and Ken Hackmeister, the executive director of the International Softball Congress, which annually hosts the premier fastpitch tournament in men’s fastpitch, the ISC World Tournament. The AAU tournament staff also includes top flite umpires, and of course, the professional Disney staff to help run the event. This year, for the first time ever at the AAU, five of the games were broadcast over the internet, via “streaming audio”, by Jim Flanagan of www.fastpitchwest.com permitting the fans back home – and all over the world — to listen to the games live. Jim’s wife Maddy provided online coverage of the event, including hundreds of photos posted on the website for the enjoyment of all.
AAU Tournament Director Alex Linares credits the organizational skills of Ken Hackmeister for a good deal of the tournament’s success. Those who attend the tournament also point to Linares’ background as a player and coach, as a key ingredient for success, noting that Alex knows what teams want and expect in a top level tournament. Linares goes out of his way to be a gracious host and keep in touch with the participating teams. This year, he provided an authentic Cuban dinner at the host hotel as part of the festivities, a big hit with many in attendance. Linares himself points out that “of course, the teams love the idea of playing fastpitch in January, and the teams seem to like the international flavor of the tournament.”
Dave Bailey, player manager for a team from Ontario, Canada was among those pleased with his teams’ AAU tournament experience. “The tournament was organized and carried out very professionally in my opinion. And the facilities [at the Disney complex] themselves are second to none. The other thing that we really enjoyed about the tournament was that we found we found it to be a very unique and diverse cultural experience, and a great experience to play teams from other countries that we usually don’t have the opportunity of playing against…” The benefits of Orlando weather in January was not lost on Bailey either, as he added with a smile: “It sure beats snowshoeing back home.”
Jim Yates, an Ohio pitcher playing for the Florida Suns echoed the praise of Bailey and others in attendance at the tournament: “[Tournament Directors] Alex and Ken both did an excellent job. The games were on time and the facilities were second to none. And playing in January is awesome.”
This year, the AAU had its largest field of teams ever, 24, coming from a variety of countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, the Bahamas, and Virgin Islands. The teams were divided into six pools of 4 teams each, playing three “pool play” (round robin) games, followed by elimination bracket play. The top sixteen teams advanced to the Championship bracket, while the bottom eight entered the consolation bracket. Among the players were many top level players and pitchers, including a number with ISC World Tournament experience.
Pool Play Results
The twenty-four teams were divided into six pools of four teams each, playing three (3) round robin games within the pool. Los Socios, Puerto Rico, Sebringville Ontario Canada, the Texas Stars, Mexicali and the Fryer’s of the British Virgin Island were the top seeds from their pools, while the Atlanta Blast, Alabama Fastpitch, Florida Suns, Panama, Bloomington Illinois, and Fedlock of Washington DC were the second seeds. If there was a surprise team, it was the Fryers of the British Virgin Islands, who went 3-0 in pool play for the #3 seed overall. It was their first trip to the AAU, but they brought along a good contingent of supportive, friendly fans, making them a favorite of the fans.
Championship Elimination Bracket
At the conclusion of pool play, the 16 top teams were placed in a single elimination Championship bracket, while the other 8 advanced to a single elimination championship bracket. The highest seeded teams matched up with lowest seeded teams in eight opening round games. In the first round of the Championship bracket, eight winners advanced:
• Mexicali, Mexico over Columbia
• Panama over Fedlock, Washington DC
• Sebringville, Ontario Canada over Atlanta
• Helfin Gremlins, New York over Puerto Rico
• Fryers, British Virgin Islands over Saskatoon/Jacksonville
• Bloomington Illinois over Texas
• Florida Suns over Alabama Fastpitch, and
• Los Socios over Miami/Dominican
Second round games were played Saturday afternoon and early evening, leaving only four teams to return on Sunday for the “Final Four”. Second round survivors were:
• Mexicali over Panama
• Sebringville, Ontario, Canada over Heflin New York
• Bloomington Illinois over Fryers and
• Los Socios, Venezuela over Florida
Interestingly, the “Final Four” teams all hailed from different countries, making the tournament a truly international one, right down to the final day. The four semi-finalists were from Mexico, Canada, the United States and Venezuela.
The semi-finals started Sunday morning, January 25, 2004, pitting Mexicali Mexico against the Sebringville Sting of Ontario Canada, and Bloomington Illinois, USA against Los Socios Venezuela.
The semi-final game between Mexicali, Mexico and the Sebringville Sting of Ontario Canada proved to be the most exciting game of the final day, with Mexicali scoring two runs in the sixth inning, for a come-from- behind victory. Sebringville had taken a 2-1 led in the top of the sixth inning, on a solo home run by catcher Brian Stere, only to have Mexicali’s first batter of the bottom of the sixth inning, first baseman Arturo Solano hit a home run to tie it. Mexicali rallied to load the bases, scoring the winning run on an infield error, for a spot in the finals. Mexicali’s Alejandro Villalobos picked up the win.
In the other semi-final game, Los Socios Venezuela eliminated Bloomington Illinois, 9-1. Bloomington has entered the single elimination bracket as a number 10 seed, ousting #3 Fryers of the British Virgin Island the night before, after a 5-0 opening round win over the Texas Stars. (Winners of last year’s 45-and-over and 50-and-over Nationals). Los Socios had reached the semi-finals with convincing wins over Miami/Dominican and the Florida Suns. In their 7-2 win over Florida on Saturday night, Jose Manillo put on an offensive show, with two home runs, including a grand slam, driving in five of his team’s seven runs.
Fittingly, the Championship game pitted the #1 and #2 seeds from pool play, Mexicali and Los Socios, Venezuela. Both teams entered the game with perfect 5-0 records, but it was the #2 seed, Los Socios that came out on top, by a 9-1 margin.
Mexicali jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a leadoff triple by Edgar Martinez, and double by Jose Luis Mendez. Mexicali’s starting pitcher, Panfilo Valdez held the lead until the 3rd inning, when Los Socios turned a walk and couple of base hits into a run to tie the game. Los Socios took control of the game the following inning, when four hits and an error led to three runs. Los Socios third baseman Jose Luis Shera’s two run single was the big blow in the inning. Mexicali’s Alejandro Villalobos came on to strike out the final two hitters of the inning, but the damage was done, and Los Socios had a 4-1 lead they would never relinquish. Los Socios took advantage of another Mexicali error in the 5th, when Carlos Ramirez singled home Asuncion Figuera, for a 5-1 lead. The Venezuelan squad added another run in the 6th on a single by MVP Elis Ugetto, his fourth of the game, a sacrifice by Carlos Zambrano, and RBI single by Jose Manillo. Leading 6-1 in the final inning, Los Socios third baseman Jose Luis Shera capped the scoring with a two run homer in the 7th inning, for the 8-1 final margin of victory, and giving Shera four RBI in the game.
Los Socios shortstop Elis Ugeto was four-for-four in the championship game, which helped him earn honors as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while starting pitcher Santiago Perez went the distance, and picked up the tournament’s Most Valuable Pitcher award.
After the 2004 tournament was “in the books”, we had a chance to speak with co-tournament director Ken Hackmeister, who had this to say about this year’s event:
“The 2004 edition was both exciting and rewarding. Exciting from the standpoint of having many good teams playing good, competitive games. No one came into the tournament as the consensus favorite to win. Rewarding because we’re seeing the successes of four prior tournaments result in the highest number of teams in tournament’s history (24). Bill Hillhouse’s ISC pitching clinics on Friday and Saturday, attracted between 15 & 20 pitchers and pitcher prospects, with many of the students returning for more than one session with Bill. Seeing the final 4 teams represent 4 different countries was also exciting for me (Mexico, Venezuela, Canada and USA).
We were also pleased to have Jim and Maddy Flanagan join our staff this year, lending their talents, including Jim’s broadcasting play-by-play and Maddy’s photographs posted to their website to share not only with the players, but the rest of the fastpitch community. “
Next Year’s Tournament
What’s in store for 2005? Ken Hackmeister has already started preparations for next year: “I’m looking forward to 2005 when we’ll attempt to host 32 teams and use all 6 of the available Disney diamonds.” The AAU’s Alex Linares knows that the growth of the tournament has been largely word-of-mouth, and hopes that this year’s field of teams will have plenty to talk about when they get home. He’d like to get some of the “big” teams from Canada, the U.S, and maybe even some of the top finishers from this year’s ISF World Championships, Japan, New Zealand, and perhaps a return appearance by Argentina, who played in the 2001 AAU tournament. He may not have a crystal ball, but one thing is for certain: The AAU International tournament has become one of “the” most desirable fastpitch tournament destinations around, and will draw plenty of attention come January 2005.
First Place – Los Socios (Venezuela)
Runner Up – Mexicali (Mexico and California)
First Place – Texaco Pirates (Bahamas)
Runner Up – Ambassadors (United States Virgin Islands)
Individual Trophy Winners
Most Valuable Player – Ellis Uqueto – Los Socios
Most Valuable Pitcher – Santiago Perez – Los Socios
Ballparkradio broadcast five games from the AAU International Tournament in Orlando, Florida, January 23-25, 2004. The broadcasts were archived and will be made available on CD for those who wish to order them. If you are interested, send us an email to: jim (at) ballparkradio.com Details pending. The games include:
Game 1: Heflin Gremlins NY v. Puerto Rico (Pool Play game Friday, Jan 23)
Game 2: Sebringville Sting, Ontario Canada v. Heflin Gremlins, NY (First Round, Championship game)
Game 3: Florida Suns v. Los Socios (Second Round, Championship bracket game)
Game 4: Sebringville Sting, Ontario, Canada v. Mexicali (Semi-final)
Game 5: Los Socios v. Mexicali (Championship Game)