Kassidy Lobb hits a pitch from her father, Jamie Lobb, at Auburn Suburban Baseball and Softball complex in Auburn on Saturday. Opening day for the league would have been held on Saturday, but due to the coronavirus pandemic the Lobb’s had the field to themselves. Kassidy Lobb’s softball season at Auburn Middle School was canceled because of the pandemic and her travel team with the Maine Thunder is on hold. “We are hoping the travel season still has a chance to kickoff,” said Jamie Lobb. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Saturday would have been opening day at Auburn Suburban Little League, a day filled with hundreds of baseball and softball players in colorful uniforms, dignitaries throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, pomp and circumstance and all of the optimism that made the occasion an annual rite of spring.

Instead, Saturday was just another day at the Auburn Suburban Baseball and Softball Complex on Garfield Road. The baseball and softball fields weren’t empty, but the gatherings were tiny, usually a father and daughter and/or son playing catch or taking a few swings.

The coronavirus pandemic has at least put a hold on the Little League seasons in Auburn and Lewiston and at baseball diamonds across the state and the country.

On Thursday, Little League International canceled the Little League World and regional tournaments for the first time since starting in 1947. The Little League World Series was scheduled to begin August 20 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

While the news disappointed local Little Leagues, it also opened up more of the summer calendar to try to salvage a season locally. But hearing an umpire shout “Play ball!” at any point this summer is still an uncertainty, even if the state expands allowed gatherings from 10 to 50 people in June, according to ASLL president Travis Bashaw.

“In my gut, it’s going to be very challenging to make something happen,” Bashaw said.

By Saturday, ASLL would have had roughly 500 kids ages 5-16 registered, assessed and assigned to teams. Registrations were cut off with the state shutdown in March, and evaluations scheduled for late March never occurred. The annual spring cleaning of the Garfield Road complex was also postponed because of state limits on gatherings.

Bashaw said not having those tasks completed could put the ASLL in a bind even if Gov. Janet Mills loosens restrictions in June. Organizers would also struggle with implementing rules to limit gatherings within the less-than-50 people restriction Mills set for what is known as “Phase 2” for opening the state.

Registration for Lewiston Baseball and Softball started in February and is ongoing with roughly 300 players signed up, but it will not have evaluations for this season, if and when it starts, according to president Tanya Whitlow. The organization has also decided to postpone starting a Challenger Division, an adaptive version of Little League for disabled children, until next year.

“We haven’t made any final decisions (on Lewiston Little League and Babe Ruth seasons). We’ve definitely talked about a June 1st start, if that’s possible,” Whitlow said.

While Little League International made its call on regional and national tournaments, Babe Ruth League announced on Friday that it is exploring ways to hold its regional and World Series tournaments this year, even if using a revised format.

In a letter posted on its website, Babe Ruth League, Inc. president and CEO Steven Tellefsen encouraged commissioners, pending the permission of local and state officials, to “extend local league play into the summer and fall months in order to permit a full season for everyone.”

Bashaw and Whitlow said league directors in Auburn and Lewiston have discussed extending the season into the fall if necessary.

“Even a fall league is possible if we needed it,” Whitlow said. “Obviously, we don’t want to (have to play then) because there are a lot of travel leagues in the fall. But what I’m hearing from parents is even if it has to be a fall league, they would like that because they want their kids to get outside and do something. Everyone wants to get out and do something.”

Whitlow said volunteers are expecting to work in groups of less than 10 this week to start cleaning up, including the snack shack and other buildings at Michael E. Giroux Field (aka Elliot Field), which sustained thousands of dollars in damage due to vandalism during the offseason. A GoFundMe account continues to raise money for the project.

The vandalism wasn’t the only financial hit Lewiston took.

“Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit we were right in the heart of getting sponsorships for this year, so that hurt our bottom line,” she said.

Local, district and state officials are expected to meet over the next two weeks to decide the fate of the season if the state decides to loosen restrictions in June. Whitlow and Bashaw said games could still be played in the Twin Cities even without a state tournament at the end of the season.

“We’d obviously do everything we could to have a season for our kids,” Bashaw said.

Nash Collins, 4, and his father, Jake Boucher play ball at the Auburn Suburban Baseball and Softball complex in Auburn on Saturday. Opening day for the league would have been held on Saturday, but due to the coronavirus pandemic Collins and Boucher had the field to themselves. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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