Crystal Lake’s Todd Sherwood competed in the first Continental Baseball Association World Series in Crystal Lake 30 years ago with the Crystal Lake Babe Ruth All-Stars and remembers the summer tournament as a larger-than-life experience.
“The atmosphere in general was awesome,” Sherwood said. “Nothing compared to it. Even when you weren’t playing a game, you wanted to go to a game and see the other teams play. There weren’t any big tournaments around like this in the area.
“Everybody stopped and watched baseball.”
Since 1993, the tournament – which now is known as the McHenry County Youth Sports Association’s Summer International Championships – has grown significantly to include more teams and age groups.
The tournament is split into two sessions, with the first session starting Friday at parks in Crystal Lake and Woodstock. There is no cost of admission for spectators. Team schedules and additional info can be found at mcysasports.org.
Opening Night ceremonies will take place at 7 p.m. Friday at Lippold Park.
Local alumni who have played in the event include Bobby Miller, Quinn Priester, Nick Martini, Connor Sadzeck and Brian Bulaga. Some other MLB players include Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Benintendi, Brian McCann, Vernon Wells and Jason Werth.
The MCYSA tournament has regularly hosted international teams, including teams from Japan, Brazil, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Russia, Lithuania and Aruba also have sent teams to Crystal Lake in the past.
This year’s 30th MCYSA tourney features teams from Japan, Brazil and Canada. A total of 62 teams will compete.
Japan, a fan favorite, has won the 15U championship in each of the past five years it has participated.
“We’ve got the biggest tournament we’ve had at 15U since 2017,” MCYSA President John Streit said. “We’ve got 22 teams just for 15U so we should have some good competition. We’re all really excited about that.”
The international aspect of the tournament is one of MCYSA’s biggest draws.
“We have a lot of dedicated volunteers that keep this going, but I guess another influence has been the relationships we’ve been able to make with the international teams so they keep coming back, because that’s very unique,” Streit said.
“There aren’t many teams that get a chance to play a team from Japan or a team from Puerto Rico. People are drawn to that. They want their players to watch how Japan does their drills, controls their emotions and shows respect for the game. When they play Puerto Rico, it’s getting to see and experience their thrill and happiness of playing baseball.”
Mike Bogers also played on the Babe Ruth All-Stars in 1993 and said the biggest thing that stood out about the tournament was the elite level of competition.
“Baseball in McHenry County is huge. Lots of great ball players come through here. It’s really good for the community, and it’s something special to have here.”— Todd Sherwood, Crystal Lake
“It was intense,” Bogers said. “We were playing against guys that had played their whole lives together in California, Puerto Rico or Japan. I remember watching these teams come in, and it simply wasn’t fair.
“Just watching the way the pitchers, their velocity was so much more fine, their breaking stuff was so much better. Our little team didn’t stand much of a chance. ... It was definitely like the Bad News Bears coming into that tournament. We definitely had a lot of talent, but these teams were far superior to us.”
Bogers fondly remembers the Opening Ceremonies, which he recalled were held at Veteran Acres Park in Crystal Lake.
“VA was our home,” Bogers said. “That was where everything happened. It was a cool experience to see teams from around the world come here and make Crystal Lake feel like it was the epicenter of baseball, or like a slightly toned down Williamsport.”
Sherwood has participated in the tournament three times and hopes to come and watch a game or two this year. In addition to playing he coached as a 21-year-old and again for his son Sean’s team last year.
“It was awesome. It was great for my kid to experience that kind of tournament locally,” Sherwood said. “It just brought back a lot of memories. Baseball has been important in my life, and I just love the game.
“Baseball in McHenry County is huge. Lots of great ball players come through here. It’s really good for the community, and it’s something special to have here.”