FIBI wraps up, Sarver turns attention to next year
With the 25th Freeport International Baseball Invitational in the books, event officials already are turning their attention to next summer’s event.
FIBI president Chuck Sarver said before the final pitch was thrown and the last of the famed hoagies were sold at the concession stand, talk began of setting the dates for the 2020 games at Freeport’s Swartz Field and other locations throughout the area.
“It’s important to get the dates set quickly,” said Sarver, who pointed to a tentative date range of July 21-25 for next year’s event.
“You have local and European tournaments and playoffs going on at this time of the summer. We always hope to talk to teams from countries like Germany, France and Italy, those who have already been here, about bringing teams back. We try to coordinate with their schedules.”
Sarver said there is definite interest from teams in Germany, France, Israel and Canada.
“Every year you get word that they plan to be there the next year and those type of scenarios, but it usually doesn’t materialize until after the first of the year when they see how their schedule is going, how much money they have and things like that,” Sarver said.
Sarver said it’s also important to have the dates secured to make sure the desired field locations are available. More than 50 games were played this past week at four locations: Swartz Field, Freeport Community Park and Springdale and Armstrong high schools.
The home run derby returned after a nearly decade-long absence, and more than three dozen hitters took part.
The Old Timers’ game capped Thursday’s full slate of on-field activities.
Sarver said he always welcomes local and regional teams, mainstays and newcomers, to play throughout the week. The Worthington Renegades and Pittsburgh RBI were two clubs to make their debuts.
“The Worthington team had to turn players away. More wanted to play than they had spots available,” Sarver said. “They hope to have two teams next year, and Nelson Cooper from Pittsburgh RBI said they will be back. I’m sure there will be others. Any new teams coming in is nice. It keeps things fresh.”
Puerto Rico was the only full team from outside the continental U.S. to take part in this week’s International.
Coach Luis Rivera, leading a team here for the third time, brought a younger group (ages 15-16) in 2015 and older squads (ages 16-20) the past two years.
He said his players enjoyed their time this week, and he hopes to bring two age-group teams next year.
“You come here to play hard but also to make friends,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Every day is a special day when we get to be on the field playing baseball.”
A quartet from Japan, two veterans of the event and two newcomers, played for the Tri-Con Roos, and Sarver hopes their participation will continue.
A staple of the International, Australian Nick Leahy, said his ninth trip to Freeport was as enjoyable as ever.
“This week has been awesome,” he said. “I get in the week before everything starts so I am here for two weeks. I’ve made a lot of friends, so its fun to catch up with those I see only once a year. I get to enjoy my time, not just because of the baseball. But the baseball has allowed me to meet all of these awesome people.”
Leahy said, at the moment, he’s not able to commit fully to coming back next year.
“I always hope to be back, but I am getting older,” said Leahy, 25.
“I am trying to buy a house, and there is work and those sorts of things. It does cost a little bit of money to get over here. It’s not a guarantee as it has been the past couple of years, but whether I do or I don’t, (the International) is always going to be very special to me.”
Heavy rain last Sunday and Monday made for a soggy start to the International, but gloomy skies quickly turned to sun-filled game days.
Dry weather dominated from Tuesday’s openers through Saturday night’s USA vs. International finale and the fireworks that followed as a large crowd was on hand to celebrate.
Sarver said he appreciated the amount of quick work done to make sure the fields would be ready to play after the rain fell.
Residents of Freeport Borough and those throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and beyond, Sarver said, always are encouraged to volunteer and help serve the Freeport International’s mission and motto: “For the love of the game.”
Said Sarver, “There is no way this event can be as successful as it is without volunteers giving of their time in so many different ways, from helping the teams and players with whatever they need to all that goes into putting on the games at each field.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-856-7400 x8632, [email protected] or via Twitter .