Franklin County second baseman Alex Philbrick reaches for the ball as Bessey Motors’ Brayden Bean (14) slides into the bag during Monday’s American Legion baseball game in Paris. (Sun Journal photo by Tony Blasi)

Franklin County American Legion baseball coach Kyle Gunzinger is mystified when it comes to turnout for each baseball season.

“Our turnout has been solid, not spectacular,” Gunzinger said. “The depth is a bit of a mystery, A great Bob Marley song is “Time will Tell” and summer can be a bit of a baptism to the younger kids. Our goal is to get them to be better all around players.

“Who can show up when? That’s the roller coaster difference between high school and legion,” he sad. “(With a) high school team you can write up your line up card the night before. (Legion) is more of a wait and see at times. But we are hoping to get a good core going and help them grow together.”

Over the years, Gunzinger has witnessed Legion teams fall away or a team will serve several communities just to field a club.

“As for the program and how it’s changed, American Legion itself has obviously shrunk in terms of the sheer number of teams,” Gunzinger explained. “I don’t know the exact numbers, however as little as five years ago we had 60 teams in Maine and I believe we are down to 15.

“It’s become a regional sort of thing. As a bit of a historian, baseball was founded as a very local game,” he said. “It is my belief that more teams and more kids playing is always a better thing.”

Gunzinger said players should be attracted by the opportunity to play against strong competition and get better, but getting them to commit their summers to playing isn’t easy.

“At times, we can be our own worst enemies as baseball people, be it scheduling near holidays or too many games per week,” he said.

Gunzinger chalks up the changes he has seen to the winds of time.

“You know on the changes, that’s an interesting question,” Gunzinger said. “Time changes all things — talent level fluctuates, game loses and gains in popularity.  “The changes, well, I would say we are at the beginning of a new cycle. 

“(You have) a bunch of young kids, and both good and bad exist in that spectrum,” he said. “One of the great parts is kids are malleable. Of course, the definition I’m going with is easily influenced, pliable. It kind of reminds me of the first year I came to Franklin, but we had a little better turnout this time.”

“We try and promote growth in terms of learning to play the game, understanding the proper play at the correct time,” Gunzinger said. “Personally, I believe kids get too much negative (thrown) at them these days — and we try to stay overtly positive because I see kids’ reaction to positive seems more productive and, even in failures, we can grow and get better.”

There are plenty of new faces on the team and a new schedule featuring mostly Augusta/Waterville and Bangor area Maine teams. But there are several players returning to Franklin.

Bo Beaulieu will pitch and play some shortstop or third base, Logan Moffett , who had an excellent summer last year, will play first, third and pitch. Bryce Gunzinger will be an outfielder. Mt Abram player Trevor Phelps will be a utility player. Kyle Fox, a pitcher, will also play third base, shortstop and second and also capable of playing in the outfield.

Gunzinger knows there will be challenges like inexperience and be being a young team this season.

“We  are hoping hoping to play clean in the field and put the ball in play,” the eight-year coach said. “I thought Edward Little had a great strategy in the Northern Maine final with Oxford Hills — and congratulations to Shane (Slicer) and the boys, but the point is play clean and throw strikes consistently and you will find yourself in most games.

“I expect some early struggles,” he added. “A lot of the kids haven’t played together and it does take awhile to feel yourself out, but we are hoping to improve each day as we go.”

Gunzinger is not sure what the team’s outlook will be this season with unfamiliar competition. The American Legion realigned the state into one zone, with two eight-team divisions, North and South. The top four in each division will qualify for the state tournament.

“I”m not sure, it’s all new to us in this one,” he said. “Ellsworth had a great year, as did Hermon and Hampden, and Bangor will always be Bangor. “ 


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