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Big days for Little League

Zuehlke Park set to host national championship

THERE'S a lot to see from the leftfielder's position at North Vancouver's Chris Zuehlke Memorial Park.

Look down and there's a pristine swath of outfield grass. Look back and there's a stand of giant trees, an eagle's nest perched atop one of the old firs. Look just ahead and there's a finely manicured baseball infield, recently honed to nearperfect condition. Look past the baseball trappings and there are the North Shore mountains in all their glory, Grouse's wind turbine lazily spinning amidst the last of the winter's snow.

It's a pretty neat place for a kid to play some ball.

On Aug. 13 there will be even more interesting sights to see, including a couple thousand fired-up fans, the top two Little League teams in Canada battling it out and a handful of video cameras capturing all the action for Rogers Sportsnet.

Awarded to North Vancouver two years ago, the 2011 Canadian Little League Championship is now less than a month away and the host ballpark, thanks in part to contributions from the City of North Vancouver and a federal infrastructure grant, is looking better than ever and ready to shine. Well, almost ready.

A new scoreboard was scheduled to go up this weekend and they're still putting the finishing touches on a new two-storey building housing a scorer's booth, official's room, washroom, and concession behind home plate. And they'll need a few more bleachers for those couple thousand fans expected for the final game Aug. 13.

"They'll be standing on each other's shoulders," said tournament director Wayne Hobson with a laugh as he surveyed the grounds on a gorgeous evening last week.

Minor tweaks aside, Hobson - the District 5 Little League administrator for the past 12 years and one of the driving forces behind the tournament - thinks the little ball diamond tucked into Mahon Park is going to wow the kids coming here from across the country to play on it.

"It's the nicest park in Canada, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I've been to a lot of parks and I've never seen one like this. It's a spectacular setting here."

So far only one team has qualified for the tournament - North Vancouver's Mount Seymour Little League. They won the right to be the host team by claiming the district championship for nine-and 10-year-olds two seasons ago. Since then they've been preparing themselves for this year's tournament, held at the Majors (1112) age level. They'll be joined by winners

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from B.C., Ontario, Quebec, the Prairie region and Atlantic Canada. The winner of the national title will go on to the massive stage of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Zuehlke Park, however, is already abuzz with the annual District 5 Majors tournament. Fans looking to get a taste of the action before the big tournament arrives in August can check out games all this week as the district competition, featuring all-star teams from the seven Little Leagues on the North Shore, enters its second week. The tournament semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, July 16, starting at noon with the district final going Sunday, July 17 at 1 p.m.

The district winner will go on to the provincial tournament scheduled for July 22-31 in Victoria with a chance to win a place at nationals back here at North Vancouver's pretty little Zuehlke Park.

The Little League playoff system offers opportunities for kids of this age that most other sports can't match, said Hobson.

"These kids have worked hard. It's just exciting for the 12year-olds - they've looked forward to this throughout their young lives," he said. "You can see it in their faces."

Organizers are still looking for families in North Vancouver that can billet players during the national tournament. Interested families can contact Hobson at d5baseball@shaw.ca. For updated information about the national tournament visit the website at www.vancouver2011.ca. To follow the District 5 tournament visit www.eteamz.com/NVDistrict5/.

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