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FIBI welcomes back familiar faces

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 11:21 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Nate McCrea, 19, of Freeport, fields a ball during warm-ups at the James Swartz Memorial Field in Freeport, Monday July 17, 2017. McCrea will participate in the annual Freeport Invitational this week.

Joe Rice didn't coach in the Freeport International Baseball Invitational last year, but he returns this week to lead a group of area high school players into action.

The Leechburg resident is involved with the event as a coach for the fifth season, and, he said, he is interested to see the week of games unfold.

“I continue to play a lot of baseball myself,” Rice, 44, said. “I've always played simply because I love the game, not to win an award or to try to make any college or pro team. The kids that I coach want to play for that same reason. That's what makes this event so special every year.”

The former Apollo-Ridge coach said was contacted by one of his former players about heading up a team this year. He agreed, and “Average Joe” was born as a conglomeration of players from Greensburg Central Catholic, Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Armstrong and Kiski Area ranging in age from 15 to 19.

“We're looking to have a lot of fun this week,” Rice said. “It's just a bunch of guys who have enjoyed the Freeport Invitational in the past who really wanted to be a part of it again.”

The event begins Tuesday afternoon and will feature games through Saturday at five locations — 18th Street Field in New Kensington, on the turf at Armstrong High School, Springdale's Agan Park, and at Freeport Community Park and Freeport Borough Field.

Familiar teams return with some new blood, something that encourages FIBI president Chuck Sarver.

“The initial draw for the invitational centered around bringing your bat and glove, playing a game, having fun and doing it all again the next day,” he said.

Sixteen teams are entered for games this year. Movement among teams participating — a few decided not to take part in the days and weeks leading up to the event but others joined — has created a fluid schedule. But Sarver and the other invitational officials hope to see as many games played as possible over the five days.

“I wish I was young and still able to play baseball on a regular basis,” Sarver said.

Sarver hopes to have nice crowds for each game, especially for a game under the lights each night at Freeport Borough Field. The first night game will be at 8 p.m. Tuesday between Armstrong Colt and Freeport Pony.

Nate McCrea has played at the Freeport Invitational for the past six years, and the 2015 Freeport grad makes it a point to take part in the games each year.

The Freeport resident and IUP student again will be a part of the Tri-Con team that features local talent joining forces with players from Australia and Japan, as well Florida and Texas.

Tri-Con is the lone team entered with international players on its roster.

“We're here playing baseball and having fun,” said McCrea, who this summer recruited his younger brother, Evan, to the Tri-Con team. Evan is a rising junior on the Freeport High School squad.

“We're not out here to get a trophy or a medal or a scholarship. We play for the love of the game, like the event's slogan says. It's anything we can do to get out here with our buddies we haven't seen in a while and enjoy the game.”

Kiski Valley Legion, fresh off a District 31 playoff appearance this season, is back in the FIBI field again this summer along with the affiliated Freeport Colt squad, a mixture of players from the organization's Junior Legion and Colt teams.

Those teams will play at 2 and 5 p.m. each day at Freeport Community Park.

“The kids really enjoy it,” Kiski Valley Legion manager Dennis Montgomery said. “We didn't come to it for a couple of years, but we always wanted to get back into it. We had that opportunity three years ago. It used to have a larger international flair to it, but the competition is always pretty good. The kids just want to play as many games as they can.”

Randy Durkoske estimates he has been bringing a team to the FIBI from Erie for the better part of 15 years. His team this year has players from three Erie schools, and they range from a rising freshman in high school to those who recently completed their first year in college.

“We love the atmosphere, and it's a great setup,” said Duroske, the coach of the Mercyhurst Prep high school team. “We just want to play games, and they do a nice job of accommodating everybody. Playing at least two games a day, you can't beat that.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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