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Pushing the boundaries

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Saturday, July 21, 2001

As a seasoned veteran of the maintenance crew at Freeport's James Swartz Memorial Field, Chuck Sarver is used to drawing baselines and draging dirt this time of year.

He still has an itch to do those things on the eve of the Freeport International Baseball Invitational, but Sarver has been busy doing other things - off the field.

Now the president of the annual event that brings together youth baseball players from around the world, Sarver has been putting the final touches on this year's Invitational, which starts Tuesday.

The busy-work of housing players, finalizing rosters and scheduling games has been extra challenging for Sarver and his many volunteers since the event's offseason growth spurt.

Sarver, who took over as Invitational president after Ralph 'Sonny' Westerman, also the event's founder, stepped down from the post, said the seventh annual Invitational will have a record 39 teams play close to 100 games next Tuesday through Saturday at six local fields.

'It's been a little hectic,' said Sarver, 47, a longtime Little League coach and board member. 'I wasn't really involved the last four years; I just helped build this or fix that when they asked me to.

'But things are falling into place.'

Sarver said new teams from Canada, Kentucky and Virginia will be in town, as will area first-timers from West Shamokin, Franklin Regional, Hampton, Monaca, Karns City and Edinboro.

Those teams will join teams from Puerto Rico, Japan and Venezuela, as well as squads from New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Indiana. Local teams from Saxonburg, Natrona Heights, Ford City and Kiski, among others, also are scheduled to play.

All teams are made up of high-school level players.

There is a lot of work involved with the Invitational - Westerman said he used to start planning for the following year the day after the Invitational ended - but Sarver said he has plenty of help and support.

'It's amazing,' he said. 'People come up to me on the street and ask me if I need any help with anything. My family also has helped a great deal. It's been a family event for us.'

Sarver also has received help from his secretary, Carol Hale.

Fans will want to pay particular attention to the festivities at Swartz Field later in the week. Regular games will take place at all of the fields each day, but special events will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

A unique Civil War game will be played Thursday by a local reenactment group. The teams will wear old uniforms and use old equipment and Sarver said a narrator will ask trivia questions to the crowd during the hour-long exhibition.

Clowns from Shriner's Circus will perform Thursday and Saturday, skydivers will descend on Swartz field Friday and a fireworks show will be held Saturday night.

The annual Old-Timer's game is slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Swartz Field.

Former Pirates Sid Bream and Randy Tomlin also are expected to play, as is former Steelers linebacker Robin Cole. Sarver said the Invitational also is trying to get former Pirates manager Jim Leyland and Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom to participate.

The main idea of the Invitational is to provide fun and sportsmanship among players with different backgrounds and cultures. The games are contested, but there are no overall winners in the non-tournament format.

The Japanese team was treated to a Pirates game and Lernerville Speedway action this week.

'We want to show them a good time,' Sarver said. 'They are really good kids. Very respective kids.'

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