Excitement builds for 25th Freeport International Baseball Invitational
It seems like just yesterday the late Ralph “Sonny” Westerman sat in the stands at Freeport’s James Swartz Stadium and said how he’d like to invite baseball teams from everywhere to play in a non-tournament setting.
Now, the Freeport International Baseball Invitational is turning 25.
This year’s event will take place Tuesday through Saturday at four locations in the Alle-Kiski Valley. While Swartz Stadium will be the de facto headquarters of the invitational, games also will be at Freeport Community Park, Armstrong High School and Springdale High School.
There will be no trophies handed out or brackets to follow — just baseball the way Westerman intended it.
Though the event reaches the quarter-century mark, organizers won’t take the focus off baseball.
“We have nothing particularly special planned for our 25th year,” FIBI president Chuck Sarver said. “We’ll have 17 teams entered this year. A team from Puerto Rico will be back, along with four Japanese players. We had hoped to get eight.”
A popular event is returning, however. The home run derby will take place 6 p.m. Thursday, leading up to the Old Timer’s Game at 8.
“We brought back the home run derby,” Sarver said. “There was interest expressed the last couple years, but teams didn’t want to give up their game time.”
While longtime participants such as Freeport, Kiski, Armstrong and Springdale will field teams, Sarver is excited about some new entries.
Pittsburgh RBI will be on hand. RBI stands for Revive Baseball in the Inner Cities.
“They’re affiliated with the Pittsburgh City Schools, who said they’d heard of us,” Sarver said. “It will be nice to have a team from the city.”
Central Catholic is sending two teams: the Blue and the Gold. Lower Burrell also is sending teams in the Colt and Pony category.
As far as international flavor goes, fan favorite Nick Leahy of Australia is ready for his ninth straight visit to Freeport.
“I’m ready for this year’s Freeport International Baseball Invitational,” Leahy said on his Twitter account.
Sarver is hoping to add more of an international presence in the future, sending feelers out to France and Germany, though the Freeport dates conflict with the European team playoffs.
D.J. Brestensky is the newest and youngest FIBI board member, taking over as secretary after Carol Hale’s retirement.
At 25, Brestensky had pretty much done it all as a player and scorekeeper and helping his father, Dave, with the grounds crew and scheduling.
“I’m ready to play with the big kids now,” Brestensky said with a chuckle. “I’m definitely seeing things in a different light. I’m trying to get guys my age involved, I hope they’ll be coming in.”
Fans will notice differences at Swartz Stadium this year.
Ongoing renovations have brought in the left and left-center field fences, and a walking track has been installed around the field that will serve as a warning track.
More upgrades are planned by the field’s owner, Freeport Borough.
Organizers want to remind residents the Freeport Marina on Buffalo Creek will be closed beginning at midnight Saturday and reopening at midnight Sunday so the site can act as a staging area for the event-closing fireworks display at 10 p.m. Saturday.
George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.