Babe Ruth World Series teams celebrated in Poulsbo parade | World Series

POULSBO -- Westfield, Mass. Babe Ruth manager Mike Smith had quite a surprise Tuesday when he arrived here and learned that his 1983 college football teammate, Bryan Backes, was coaching World Series rival Waite Park, Minn.

Backes could have a bigger surprise in store for Smith: This is the third World Series for most of Backes' players, who played on fifth-place teams at the 10-year-old and 12-year-old events. Westfield hasn’t been to a World Series in 20 years.

“He was first string and I was the seventh-string quarterback, so it makes me feel good that he remembered me,” Backes said. He and Smith reminisced about playing at St. John’s for John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football. But did Backes tell his fellow “Johnnie” – the nickname for St. John’s alums – about Waite Park’s record?

No, Backes said with a smile.

Waite Park and Westfield meet in the series opener Wednesday, 9 a.m., at Kitsap County Fairgrounds’ Gene Lobe Field. Get a sneak peek at the official program, published by the North Kitsap Herald, at Programs will be available at the game.

The Kitsap All-Stars are the host team of the Babe Ruth World Series for 13-year-olds. Kitsap’s first game is Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., vs. Bryant, Ark. The series continues through Aug. 22.

Poulsbo welcomed the 10 World Series teams in a downtown parade Tuesday afternoon: Bryant, Ark.; Tri-Valley, Calif.; Meridian, Idaho; Schererville, Ind.; Westfield, Mass.; Waite Park, Minn.; Monroe Township, N.J.; Greenville, N.C.; and, from Washington, Burlington and Kitsap.

Teams arrived Monday, some as late as 10 p.m. They flew into SeaTac, took a hop to Bremerton, and then were shuttled to the Silverdale Beach Hotel where they met their host families. Smith said his Westfield team arrived at 5 p.m. after 17 hours of travel.

Tuesday, players marched down a sunny, flag-bedecked Front Street, carrying team banners and accompanied by their bat boys and ambassador girls. Poulsbo is the host city, and bat boys and ambassadors were selected from the area to assist the teams during their visit here. In addition, players are staying with local host families.

Former Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre, most famous for his skills as a Dodger infielder and as an actor in film and TV, waved to crowds from a convertible, contributing to the star quality of the parade. He would be the keynote speaker at a banquet at Kiana Lodge later that evening.

The short parade ended at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park and Kvelstad Pavilion, where visitors were welcomed by Mayor Becky Erickson, County Commissioners Rob Gelder and Charlotte Garrido, and Kitsap Babe Ruth co-presidents Russ Barker and Brent Stenman.

Downtown, Navy chief petty officers recruited by Barker and Stenman, helped Poulsbo police with traffic control.

All around, the mood was high.

“It’s awesome,” Deputy Police Chief Wendy Davis said of the series. “It brings different people to our community. It’s a positive event and it’s great for Poulsbo.”

Poulsbo loves a parade, and what’s a parade in Little Norway without Vikings and a Viking ship? The same Viking ship you see in the Viking Days Parade was there, with the Sons of Norway Queen Margaret Graves, her court and a contingent of horn-blowing Vikings.

Asked if Vikings were baseball fans – there’s a football team called the Vikings, after all – one Viking said, “Anything you can play with a bat and your opponent’s head.”

Oh, well.

At Kvelstad Pavilion, Mayor Erickson told players, “We ordered this weather for you so you can enjoy yourselves.” While she spoke, it was about 80 degrees, which can make some local mossbacks grumpy, the light breeze off Liberty Bay notwithstanding. But ballplayers Trenten Gracida, Jacob Herberger and Drake Simons of Meridian, Idaho, said they prefer the weather in Poulsbo – three-digit summers are common in their hometown, near Boise.

Erickson congratulated players on making it to the series, saying their accomplishment is “testimony to your dedication and hard work.”

Indeed. Most teams get to the Babe Ruth World Series with a winning record and a lot of community and family support. Smith, the Westfield manager, said his community raised $20,000 to help cover his team’s expenses. (To become the host city, Poulsbo had to raise $50,000 for visiting teams’ expenses, recruit host families and provide other support. Barker said earlier that the series could pump about $1 million into the local economy).

After the parade and welcoming ceremony, players had about an hour to visit downtown before the banquet at Kiana Lodge in Suquamish. Waite Park center fielder Peter Nelson, second baseman Mike Petron and their host, Dave Shields, perused the art in the cool of Bluewater Artworks. The boys said their World Series plans include Safeco Field on Friday, 9:10 p.m., to watch the Minnesota Twins take on the Seattle Mariners.

With all of the distractions – the attention, the parade, the lure of beaches and Mariners games – is it difficult to keep players focused on the game?

“They’re 13-year-old boys. They should enjoy all of this,” Backes said. “When they put on that uniform and hat and walk onto the field, I expect they’ve got their focus on the game. But off the field, we let ’em be kids and have fun.”

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