For 11-year-old sluggers across the state, the big news this week isn't the heat, it's the Peter J. Skeffington Memorial Cal Ripkin Baseball Tournament playing out in Merrimack.
Nine teams in the western division are battling it out for top slots and a chance to face the winners in the eastern division in a state championship tournament later this month.
"This is one of the best tournaments," said Bob Shagoury, Umpire in Chief for Merrimack Youth Baseball. He said umpires volunteer time, parents man the concession stand and local businesses donate to support Merrimack Youth baseball and the tournament which raises money for Skeffington scholarships for Merrimack High graduates.
"It's double elimination, and the winners go to the state tournament," said Merrimack resident Ed Orleans, assistant state commissioner for Cal Ripkin baseball. "That's the pecking order and the coaches do their best to get them there."
Orleans said the post-season tournament was started back in the '90s to honor Peter Skeffington, a former baseball and Pop Warner football coach who died of cancer at age 42.
"He gave a lot of himself to the town," said Orleans, who added that his son played for Skeffington. "He died much too young."
More than 650 Merrimack kids play youth baseball, and that's down from about 1,000 in years past.
Merrimack mom Claire Lajewski was sitting on the hillside at Harry Bise Field Saturday afternoon cheering on her son, Zach Doyon, and his teammates.
"Last night was really hot," said Lajewski who, like the rest of the crowd, was grateful for a slight, but noticeable dip in the temperature.
Lajewski said, win or lose, the tournament gives players a sense of pride.
"It's an accomplishment," she said adding that the kids learn to cooperate with one another.
Elizabeth Seaver worked the concession stand Friday night and said, after a couple of hours serving up hot dogs, hamburgers and baskets of fries, she went home and jumped in her pool with her clothes still on.
But like other parent volunteers, Seaver, whose son Tyler was in the lineup, is a big fan of Merrimack Youth Baseball .
"I'd rather have my kids on the field than on the streets," she said.
Teams from Nashua, Hollis/Brookline, ConVal, Swanzey, Kersarge Mt., Milford, Merrimack and Keene are playing in this year's tournament. Keene (as host) and the top three teams with compete in the state tournament beginning July 20 in Keene.
"A lot of people volunteer a lot of time for this," said Orleans. "It's great for the kids and the towns."