Baseball is the only game not controlled by a clock, chirp the purists.
The purists obviously have never attended an American Legion baseball game in Maine.
Legion ball, which showcases the considerable talent of high school and first-year college players throughout the state, is governed completely by the hands of Mickey Mouse and the fine print of the Farmer’s Almanac. And there’s absolutely no need for it.
In Zone III, which includes most of the teams in the tri-county region, seven-inning weeknight games throughout June and July are scheduled to begin at 5:45 p.m.
The volume of daylight needed to safely play a game involving a tightly wound ball and aluminum bats expires well before sunset. So that leaves roughly 2 hours for the requisite spitting, scratching, substitution and conferences at the mound and before every bunt or hit-and-run, let alone the game itself.
Good pitching being a lost art on par with free-throw shooting and guitar solos, 150 minutes is almost an insufficient window for a regulation game. Never mind what happens if you get a colossal comeback and are forced into bonus baseball.
Tuesday night’s showdown between Gayton Post 31 (comprised of players from Lewiston, St. Dom’s and Lisbon) and New Auburn Post 153 (Edward Little and St. Dom’s) was an agonizing example.
Aside from the obvious emotional attachment to any sporting event involving a hodgepodge of Twin Cities kids, this game had it all. Blanked on two hits though the first six innings, Gayton rallied with five runs in the top of the seventh to tie it. Gayton grabbed the lead in the eighth, only to see New Auburn knot matters again and put the winning run at third before running into a bizarre double play.
Then the umpires and coaches convened in the dusk and made the inevitable announcement that the game would be suspended. The collective groan from both dugouts made it sound like the players were told they would have to go to school on the Fourth of July.
Now the game will be completed Lord-knows-when under completely different conditions, draining every ounce of emotion and intensity from it, gut-wrenching momentum swings be damned.
It’s unfair to everyone, and it’s completely preventable. Is there a federal law that says we can’t start at 5?
Umpire availability is not a problem. All school year long, games are played statewide at 3:30.
Kids are juggling work with baseball, I’m told. Well, if their summer employers aren’t flexible enough to give 30 to 60 minutes leeway twice a week, I’d suggest looking for a new job.
Three years ago, Maine’s Legion champion (Nova Seafood) went on to win the national title. American Legion baseball is a good product. Still, it has the reputation here of being a watered-down afterthought.
Embarrassing, unsatisfying, anticlimactic endings like this one don’t help a whit.