It seems like a ritual the last decade: North Andover versus Andover for the District 14 Little League championship.
Well, it’s here again, starting Monday night at 5:45 p.m. when the best-of-three series begins at Carl Thomas Field in North Andover.
But there is a slight difference this year.
North Andover, which has always had two teams (East and West; or American and National), decided this year to go with one team going forward in the 11-12 year-old Williamsport Tournament.
There’s a rule that allows towns with two or more district teams, based on participants, to create one “super” team.
The North Andover board voted 15-1 in favor of having one team, but there was some controversy.
This is on the heels of a North Andover team winning the District 14 championship five out of the last 10 years, after never winning it before.
Why go to one team when two seems to have been more than good enough?
North Andover Little League president, Jeff LaVolpicelo, said it wasn’t an easy thing to do, going to one team. But he and others believe it was the right decision.
“When you go from two all-star teams to one, your first concern are the kids who won’t be playing on a district team,” said LaVolpiecello, who has a son on this year’s North Andover team.
“And we have that with the Merrimack Valley Small Diamond League, which started about a half-dozen years ago. There is travel, which the kids love, but the teams are all local.”
North Andover, with a population of 31,000, has 14 summer teams playing from ages 7 through 12, including three district teams (10, 11 and 11-12) and 176 kids playing summer baseball
In terms of district teams, Beverly, with a population of 41,000, has one team. Billerica (43,000) recently went to one team. It is expected that Andover will go that route next year.
There was another issue. Despite the success in the district championships over the last decade, a North Andover team has never advanced past the Sectional tournament.
“With some of the bigger towns, we didn’t have as good a chance to advance in the sectionals,” said LaVolpicelo. “We believe we have a very good team, but we’ll see.”
When North Andover East won the town’s first-ever district title there were 12 teams — two from Andover, North Andover, Tewksbury, Billerica and Lawrence and one from Methuen and Haverhill.
Now there are only four: Andover American, Andover National, Billerica and North Andover.
Over the last decade the other towns opted out of Little League, with most going to Cal Ripken Baseball, which for the 11-12 year old league has longer base lines (70 feet versus 60 feet in Little League), a pitcher’s mound that is 10 feet farther away (50 feet versus 40 feet), and it allows base-runners to lead.
In fact, there is an Andover Cal Ripken Baseball league, which started this year.
“There’s a lot going on in youth baseball right now, which I’m sure will be addressed by Little League Baseball,” said LaVolpicelo. “Cal Ripken (Baseball) seems to be popular. I’m sure these subjects will be discussed in a lot of towns very soon.”
For now, though, the 2019 District 14 championships, between North Andover and Andover American will be in the limelight beginning Monday.
District 14 championships schedule
Game 1: Mon., July 8, at Carl Thomas Field, North Andover, 5:45 p.m.
Game 2: Tues., July 9, at Deyermond Field, Blanchard St., Andover, 6 p.m.
Game 3: TBA