It has been 10 years since anybody other than Mifflin County has won a Babe Ruth District 7 tournament.
That is a streak of 31 consecutive titles. Even before the streak began, Mifflin County was the dominant league in the district.
This year there were some very competitive games. The first Mifflin County-Perry County 15-year-old game (won by Mifflin County, 6-2) had the intensity of a state playoff game. At the 14-year-old level, Gettysburg gave Mifflin County a good game the first time the two teams met; Mifflin County won by a 7-3 score.
The championship game of the 13-year-old district final between Mifflin County and Perry County finished at 11-2, but Mifflin County didn't pull away until the top of the seventh when it scored five runs.
People from Gettysburg, Upper Adams and Perry County have asked me why Mifflin County has been so dominant. There are many reasons, and here are a few:
Remember since the streak started, Mifflin County didn't exactly fall off the face of the the earth when it entered the state tournaments. Since 2001, Mifflin County has finisned in the state's final four 25 times, finished second six times, won 10 state championships, finished in the final four of a Mid-Atlantic regional six times, had three runners-up at the regional level and won two Mid-Atlantic titles - advancing to two World Series and never finishing below eighth in either one of them. So District 7 teams are not the only ones Mifflin County has played well against.
Baseball is big in Mifflin County. From Little League to high school, it seems like there is a player on every diamond in the county from the time the snow melts until the last out is made. That's a compliment to the people of the area along with the parents, who set aside their lives so their sons can compete at a high level.
The intensity of play in the Mifflin County league. I would be surprised that a pennant race in Gettysburg, Upper Adams or Perry County has the feel of one here in Mifflin County. For example, the games this year between the three top teams - Lewistown, Beaver Springs and Yeagertown - were well attended and well played for the most part. It had the same intensity of a district tournament. And how can anyone forget the 2003 season when the league had four outstanding teams and the league ended up in a tie? The playoff between Yeagertown and the West attracted one of the biggest crowds (500-750) in the history of Armagh Memorial Field. Community support has played a big part in the Mifflin County history.
Stability of the league. Mifflin County has 15 men in the Pennsylvania Babe Ruth Hall of Fame. The 15 men have a combined 339 years of service. Eight of those men are still active in the league. With all that experience, coaching and running an organization is a lot easier than when there is a constant change of personnel - which tends to be the case in most Babe Ruth organizations. For example the three 2011 all-star teams have managers or coaches who have won a total of 21 state titles and three of them have been to a World Series.
Not one of the teams Mifflin County played in the district tournaments had a full 15-man roster. On long, hot days, you need every able body that can play. It seemed that the longer the tourmaments ran, the more fatigued the other three teams were.
The length of the 27-game regular season schedule helps Mifflin County. One thing a 27-game schedule makes a team do is find pitching, no matter if you're in last place or first. Mifflin County played eight games in districts and used a total of 11 pitchers. Only two of them saw action on the mound twice, Drew Harshbarger at the 13-year-old level, who threw a total of three innings, and Isaac Strohecker on the 15-year-old team, who made two appearances, also for three innings.
Also, the length of the schedule helps prepare teams for long stretches of games. Most teams in the league play four and sometimes five games a week for long periods of the season, especially when games are moved because of rain and varsity and junior varsity baseball conflicts.
Expansion. Twice since 1999, Mifflin County has expanded its territory. Not only does that get more players involved, but the two new teams have had great coaching. But, don't think that Mifflin County has been the only league in the state to expand its territory. Both West End of Williamsport and State College have expanded their areas of coverage. And when Drexel Hill was in its zenith of winning Babe Ruth titles in the 1980s and 1990s, it was drawing from nearly 80,000 people. And when Jefferson Parish of New Orleans won all three national titles in 2005, it was drawing from nearly 400,000 people. The only thing that stopped them was Hurricane Katrina.
Even before the expansion, Mifflin County already was one of the top four leagues in the state with nine state titles.
And finally, most important part are the players themselves. The 45 players on the All-Star teams want to be there. They want to play baseball. Each has given up a little bit of their summer to work and play on these teams and in the long run that is what this is all about.
Ray Wilde covers Babe Ruth baseball for The Sentinel.