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Mar, 2019

The road a player takes toward becoming a PONY World Series champion

Across the Southern United States and in warm climate countries world-wide, players on baseball and softball diamonds are relishing the beginning of a new PONY season. For those in areas where snow may still be falling on the ground or Mother Nature just isn’t ready for play yet, teams are itching to get out onto the field and will be in the next few weeks.

This is the time of year in which players are traditionally playing within their own local leagues, many times, with their classmates. In other parts of the world, teams may be participating in country-wide tournaments to kick off the PONY season. For example, over the next month and a half, PONY’s European and Mexico Zones will both be holding their Zone Championships. In places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, national championship winning teams will be or already have been determined, as spots in Zone Championships will be or already have been claimed.

Besides developing friendships and making memories that will last a lifetime, this is the part of the PONY season in which skills are honed, “routine plays” become more and more routine with repetition in practice and the fields start to become second homes again for players and their families.

Here is where the road to a PONY World Series title begins.

Teams will play an in-house, regular league season that traditionally culminates with a league tournament or playoffs. For most teams, the league postseason season will end with a loss, but for those who are fortunate enough, winning a league title can be one of the fondest memories of a PONY player’s career, especially if victory came way of overcoming adversity or an unlikely hero came through in the clutch.

For densely populated regions of the country, it might mean a week from the end of the league championship game that players are participating in tryouts and are selected to PONY all-star teams. For other areas, the local league schedule may stretch into June before it’s tournament time. For those who have the privilege of being a part of an all-star team, consider it a great honor to represent your league and local community.

Then, the rubber meets the road to determine who the best PONY teams in the world are.

In girls softball, PONY teams will participate in qualifying tournaments across their respective Zones, all leading up to the East Zone Nationals, and South and West Zone World Series, which take place in mid-to-late July. Hundreds of teams participate in these events, making it that much more difficult to go unscathed through a tournament. Only one team in each age division wins the right to call itself a Zone champion. For the first time ever, PONY Girls Softball is holding an International World Series this July in Deer Park, Texas, meaning there will be a grand finale for teams in the Pony 14 and Colt/Palomino 16/18U age divisions.

For baseball teams, it is a gauntlet to go through Districts all the way to being a World Series champion. Depending upon the Zone and Region, teams will start out at the District level and participate in a tournament against nearby leagues. Depending upon a team’s finish at the District level, the team will move on to Sections and then Regions, which may be county-wide, state-wide or even across multiple states.

By the time a team makes it to Super Region and Zone tournament play, they are playing against the top PONY competition across the country. For International Zone teams at the Zone tournament level, this may mean respective national championship-winning teams competing against each other, representing countries across an entire continent. Only eight winners at eight age levels (Mustang-9, Mustang, Bronco-11, Bronco, Pony-13, Pony, Colt and Palomino) across eight different Zones will earn the right to call themselves a PONY Zone Champion and earn an automatic berth to a PONY World Series event.

For the younger age groups (Shetland and Pinto), some Zones hold State Championships, World Series or International Classics to determine the best-of-the-best in their areas of the world.

A player walking on the field today for practice at their local league field could be the same player who participates on one of PONY's 64 Zone championship-winning teams come July and August. Some players play their entire youth careers and never win a league championship. Only a certain few out of the approximate 500,000 players, who annually play in PONY affiliated leagues, get to play in a PONY World Series. For those who are fortunate enough to go multiple times, they are in a class of their own.

It is already an accomplishment in and of itself to make it to a World Series, because with just two losses, a team’s stay at a World Series could be short-lived and the season is then over. But for the team who is able to defeat the best-of-the-best from all over the world, the team will be immortalized forever.

Hilo, Hawaii's Joey Jarneski (circled above) will always be remembered for his memorable performance in his team's championship game win vs. Taoyuan County, Chinese Taipei in 2014 at the Pony League World Series. Jarneski pitched a complete game and struck out 11 in the win, while only surrendering three earned runs on five hits. He also had a solo home run and a two-RBI double in the contest. Jarneski now pitches in the Texas Rangers' farm system.

It’s a tough road to make it all the way to the finish line and raise a banner as a Zone or World Series champion, but for the players who do accomplish this feat, it will make all of the hard work they are putting in today worth it in the end.

PONY Baseball and Softball

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