WATERVILLE — The opening ceremony to the New England 12-under Cal Ripken baseball regional tournament at Purnell Wrigley Field opened with a parade of the eight participating teams, and closed with a tribute to a Maine baseball lifer.

With team introductions complete, attention went to Stump Merrill, a Maine native who spent decades coaching in the New York Yankees organization, managing the club in the early 1990s. Merrill threw out the ceremonial first pitch, then was honored with a monument at the flagpole. Merrill’s monument joins those honoring former Colby and University of Maine baseball coach Dr. John Winkin, College Football Hall of Famer John Huard, and Clyde Sukeforth, the Maine native who signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Alfond Center CEO Ken Walsh also announced Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner donated $10,000 for a scholarship in Merrill’s name, ensuring any child who wants to play in Waterville’s Cal Ripken baseball league will not be turned away.

“This is not for me. This is for the kids behind me here to play baseball,” Merrill, 74, said. “Dream big, because you don’t know what you can achieve.”

A skills competition consisting of a throwing relay, a base running relay, and a home run derby were scheduled for Friday evening. Tournament games begin at 10 a.m., Saturday with Washington Park, Rhode Island, taking on Ash/West of Massachusetts, and runs through the championship game scheduled for 5 p.m., Thursday. The tournament winner earns a spot in the Cal Ripken 12-year old World Series, Aug. 2-9 in Phenix City, Alabama.

For some teams, playing on the field’s FieldTurf surface will be a new experience.

“I’m impressed. I’m sort of taking it all in,” said Andy McGovern, head coach of Vermont champ Central Vermont. “Most of our players have never played on turf, or even on a field with a fence.”

Jose Rodriguez, coach of Connecticut champ Bridgeport Caribe, said most of his team has played on artificial fields, and those teams that haven’t will quickly come to appreciate that the ball takes fewer bad hops.

“It looks like it’s going to be a fun tournament,” Rodriguez said.

Purnell Wrigley Field hosted the New England 11-year-old tournament last year, and will host the 12-year-old World Series in 2020. This tournament is sort of a dress rehearsal for that, New England Regional Commissioner Barry Jordan said.

“This tries to get a little bit of preparation for that. It kind of tells us what the field needs to have done to it,” Jordan said. “We play all over the region and all over the country, and this is certainly one of the premier fields of the program.”

As host, Waterville once again gets to field a team against the best of the New England region. Coach Larry Brown said he has most of the team back that made a run to third place in the 11-year-old tournament last summer. Waterville opens the tournament at 3 p.m., Saturday against Bridgeport Caribe.

“I hope the experience helps,” Brown said. “For these boys, it’s amazing, the opportunity to do this two years in a row.”

Maine also is represented by state champion Andy Valley, which will play Maplewood, Massachusetts, at 12:30 p.m., Saturday. Lebanon, New Hampshire rounds out the eight-team field.

“It’s going to be a great experience for the kids,” Jordan said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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