A decade after a promising young athlete from Palatine succumbed to cancer, his name lives on through one of the largest and most prestigious youth baseball tournaments in the state.
The Casey Pohl Memorial Tournament opened Thursday, the first day of a four-day event that uses up to 11 fields across Palatine and draws as many as 10,000 fans to the area.
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"For 11- and 12-year-old travel teams, this is one of the premiere tournaments," said Chris Bechtold, tournament director and vice president of travel for Palatine Youth Baseball. "It brings together teams from the Mid-Suburban Baseball and the I-80 leagues and mixes them up and makes for diverse tournament play."
At the opening ceremony, Bechtold announced Pohl's jersey number would be retired by the organization. He unveiled a large circle placard with Pohl's name and a No. 47 that will be affixed to the outfield wall at Fuller Field in Palatine. The players also will wear the number on their batting helmets.
"We're incredibly honored," Casey's father, Steve Pohl, said. "We never could have expected this kind of recognition for our son, who loved the game so much. It means the world to us to keep his memory alive."
This year's tournament includes 16 teams in two age divisions. Normally, the event draws teams from Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, as well as Illinois, but this year Illinois teams grabbed all of the tournament spots. Teams are coming from as close as Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Elk Grove Village and Palatine and from as far as Antioch, Bolingbrook, Gurnee and Lemont.
"It's a real chance to see some up-and-coming high school players," Bechtold said, adding that each team is guaranteed to play three games, with the top six teams in pool play advancing.
Games wind up Sunday with championships in both divisions at the Hamilton Sports Fields, as well as a scholarship award ceremony, presented by Steve and Debbie Pohl to a high-school player who previously played in the Casey Pohl Tournament and intends to continue playing in college.
Three years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn showed up at the finals to congratulate the winners.
"It's a huge family event with a picnic flavor and lots of people and activities," Bechtold said.
Casey Pohl grew up playing baseball with the Palatine Baseball Organization, playing on his first travel team at the age of 10. He went on to play at Fremd High School, where in 2000 his team placed fourth in the state tournament.
He was diagnosed with cancer in his senior year and had to step away from the game he loved. As he underwent chemotherapy treatments, his teammates shaved their heads in solidarity.
"It's a very emotional weekend for the family, but we look at it as a celebration of life," Bechtold said. "We try to encourage the boys to be thankful for their many gifts and share their love of the game."