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Freeport International Baseball Invitational rolls on despite limited international presence this year

| Sunday, July 16, 2017, 4:42 p.m.
Tribune-Review
International's Ilan Klein of Israel smiles after singling against the United States during the USA vs. International game to end the Freeport Invitational at James Swartz Field in Freeport on Saturday, July 30, 2016.

When the 23rd annual Freeport International Baseball Invitational begins Tuesday, it will have one of its smallest foreign presences in event history.

Despite efforts from the FIBI board of directors, a full team from a foreign country will not compete this year.

A pair of players from Japan and Australia will make up the international contingent. They will be a part of the Tri-Con Roos team with local players. Approximately 16 teams will take part in the event.

The directors hope to have a larger international presence next season to honor FIBI founder Sonny Westerman, who died June 30 at age 88.

“Unfortunately that's the worst we've had internationally since the first two years,” FIBI president Chuck Sarver said. “It'll be a pretty lean year, but we've already reached out to places like Germany and France to make it a grand affair next year in honor of Sonny.

“It's business as usual. We'll play ball and have a good time. We'd like to have more international teams, but it is what it is.”

A team from Mississauga, Ontario, was scheduled to play, but it pulled out about two weeks before games were scheduled to start. Sarver said currency exchange rate issues between Canada and the United States was part of the factor.

“It happens,” FIBI vice president Dave Brestensky said. “A lot of these teams from these countries just don't have the funding, but a lot of them want to come back next year because they love Sonny and want to honor him. Hopefully next year will be different. It's working up to be that way.”

When the games begin on Tuesday they will be played at five fields: James Swartz Memorial Field in Freeport, Freeport Community Park, 18th Street Field in Arnold and Armstrong High School. The games at Armstrong will be played at the new artificial turf baseball stadium. It will be the first time a FIBI game will be played on an artificial surface.

Between all of the sites, Sarver estimated there are 50-60 volunteers helping out each day.

On Thursday at Swartz Field, the FIBI will honor Westerman during the Sonny Westerman Old-Timers Game. Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Tom McGough will emcee the event, and former Pittsburgh Steeler Robin Cole also will be in attendance. The game starts at 8 p.m.

Saturday will feature the annual 5K run at 9 a.m. in Freeport. Runners can sign up for the event through Thursday.

The FIBI will conclude with a game featuring local and international players Saturday at 8 p.m., followed by the traditional fireworks show that caps the event.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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