Brodi Farinas of Pastime fires the ball over the plate during last week’s American Legion baseball game against Topsham in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The American Legion season is off and running, but not without some hiccups along the way. 

Pastime, the Lewiston-based team that also includes three players from Edward Little and one from Lisbon, has already postponed two games, one last Thursday and the other this past Tuesday.

The teams in the South division, which includes Pastime, Bessey Motors and the Rumford Falcons, play two or three days a week, with a doubleheader most Saturdays, so there’s a time crunch to get in games.

For Pastime, there also is a field crunch. 

Pastime and Lewiston’s junior legion team both play their games at either Pettengill Park in Auburn or Elliot Little League Fields in Lewiston. Lewiston High School recently opened up its new athletic facilities this past school year and has made some extra money offering up its turf fields to teams that can’t play because of their water-logged fields. 

The Lewiston High School fields, run by the City of Lewiston and the Lewiston Parks and Recreation Department, are free for the high school to use, but the American Legion teams are a different story. 

According to Pastime coach Chris Reed, the city is charging $85 an hour, a $50 cleanup fee and a $35 supervisory fee. Reed said that would amount to “$350-400 dollars a game.”

Pastime charges each player $100 to play for the summer, so the amount being charged by the City of Lewiston isn’t feasible. 

“It’s very frustrating, it’s extremely frustrating,” Reed said. “They put this beautiful new field out there, the kids love it and it allows you to get out on the field when you couldn’t, and I just assumed we could play there.”

Reed said that Jason Fuller, athletic director at Lewiston High School, has tried to help and talk to the city but to no avail. 

“We aren’t charging AAU fees,” Reed said. “We are a public program and charge just enough to get by. Jason tried to reason with them and explain to them that it’s almost all Lewiston kids in this program … but they wanted nothing to do with the negotiations whatsoever, so Pettengill Park was kind enough to let us play a game for free and Elliot Field will do the same.”

Reed, an assistant on Lewiston High School’s varsity baseball team in the spring, tried to explain to the city that the field would be put to better use with his team using it instead of random people in the neighborhood because the high school team has already proved that it can take care of a field. 

“I would show up early for practice because almost every day there were shoes, cones, soccer cones, trash, you know, so everyday we would pick up the mess and practice,” Reed said. “We never did anything to show that we would abuse the field, so it’s unfortunate.

“What they told Jason was that they were following the Portland model, and that’s what Portland charges for their turf. The difference is, with the Portland facilities, it’s not just about the demographics but they’re going the AAU and elite stuff for $1,500 to register. I’m charging $100, and I bought uniforms and hats. We are offering up basically public baseball.”

PLAYING ELSEWHERE

Players are increasingly switching to AAU and other elite baseball leagues, so much so that American Legion numbers are down in many areas. Auburn’s Rogers Post program, for instance, has only a junior legion team this summer because a senior team would not have enough players to consistently field a squad.

Jake Brown, who was Pastime’s coach for the past three seasons before stepping down prior to this summer due to multiple work-related obligations, is concerned about the future of Legion baseball in Maine. 

“There’s no question that it’s struggling right now, in numbers and teams leaving,” Brown said. “Who would have thought a few years ago that Auburn wouldn’t have a team? I think that’s the issue right now with AAU. There’s no question that AAU offers the ability for kids to be seen by colleges.”

At last year’s American Legion state tournament in Bangor, colleges weren’t exactly lined up to see the talent, which included Colton Carson, who was already committed to play baseball at the University of Maine at Orono.

With AAU taking a lot of the spotlight, Brown believes changes need to be made to help resuscitate American Legion. 

“Last year at the Legion tournament, I think there were two or three college scouts there,” Brown said. “I don’t think Legion can compete against AAU. I think they need to try to find a way to make it work for kids to do AAU and Legion. I think that might mean going away from Saturdays so those kids can go play AAU. I think if they try to make Legion a weekend thing it’s not going to work out.”

FINDING TIME

Pastime already is in a scheduling bind. When asked about makeup games already this summer, Reed said he has to look at schedules and coordinate with the Babe Ruth little league and junior Legion to find a way to squeeze even more games into a tight schedule.

“I do worry about Legion going down the road,” Brown said. “I think it’s really about Legion saying, ‘Let’s get some of these really smart baseball people in the room and let’s talk about how to work with those AAUs.’ That’s the only way it’ll be successful down the road.”

GOOD SIGNS

There are some bright spots. Rumford started a team this season and coach Steve LaPointe believes that every game he will have enough players to field a team.

Another high point for American Legion this summer is Topsham. Topsham Post 202 had more than 50 players try out, and the quality of players stood out in the team’s 10-2 season-opening win over Pastime.


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