Ashton Kennison of Bessey Motors, a team made up of players from Oxford Hills High School, warms up on-deck during the Senior American Legion state tournament at Husson University in Bangor last summer. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Any chance for Maine’s 40 junior and senior American Legion teams to hold a season this summer was effectively ended over the weekend when the national American Legion Baseball committee suspended all support for baseball activity.

“Basically it ends it for the nation,” said David Gray, Maine’s director of American Legion baseball.

In a memo sent last Friday, the American Legion National Organization announced “in light of continuing events resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” it “has shut down all sponsorship and all involvement in baseball for 2020.”

That means any team or department that wants to try to organize must do so without the American Legion name, guidance or insurance plan.

Gray said he does not see that happening.

“That would have to be done with individual teams and we would have nothing to do with it. Because (the national American Legion) told us we can’t,” Gray said.

On April 7, the American Legion National Organization announced the cancellation of its regional and national baseball tournaments. At that time, states were encouraged to try to pursue a regular season. Legion baseball is played nationally by 13-to-19-year-olds.

“We were one of several states still trying to have a season. We were putting together a proposal for our state of Maine executive committee,” Gray said.

Gray said Friday’s national decision ended that process.

Participation in Legion baseball has been in decline in Maine for more than a decade, particularly among older players. Last summer there were 16 Senior American Legion teams in the state – a third of its 2007 peak of 48 teams. Most senior and junior Legion teams are based in the Lewiston and Bangor areas and in central Maine.

According to Maine’s Junior American Legion Commissioner Rod Stevens, there is still interest in playing baseball this summer, even if the Legion patch isn’t on a uniform sleeve.

June 1 is seen as a target date for at least beginning some type of practice because that’s when the state is expected to allow gatherings of up to 50 people.

“Of the 40 teams that were signed up to play ball this summer, most all of them are interested in finding something to make this happen,” Stevens said.

“Through this whole process, we’ve been making sure coaches are available, that we have players who want to play, and umpires,” Stevens said.

While the local clubs would have to come up with their own insurance, Stevens thinks finding facilities willing to host games will be the biggest hurdle. He noted that seven teams from central Maine were scheduled to play all their games at Colby College. Currently, Colby is not allowing visitors to campus and all of its athletic facilities, including the baseball and softball complex, are closed for gatherings.

THE CMG FINANCIAL Wood Bat League, played in the greater Portland area, is still hopeful to fit its season in, said Mike D’Andrea one of the league’s co-directors. But the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the subsequent need to wait for often updated direction from both state government and the Maine Principals’ Association makes planning difficult.

Over the past three years the league has provided a place for younger high school players to compete with their school teammates, usually coached by the varsity baseball coach. Monday afternoon D’Andrea said he was hopeful the league could begin July 6. That’s the date the Maine Principals’ Association has set for the first day of in-person coaching. The MPA has also suspended its hands-off period for the first two weeks of August. That would give the league six week – its norm – to complete a season.

But by Monday night, D’Andrea said he was unsure about whether games could be played, based on email communications being shared by coaches in the wood bat league. In the emails, coaches indicate that their high school athletic directors believe the July 6-Aug. 15 time period could be for skills based training only, with no games allowed.

The MPA sent a memo to schools Monday that did not specifically state what activities would be allowed during that time period. The memo, noting inter-committee discussion was ongoing, said in part that the MPA hoped to “allow some in-person instruction to occur,” on July 6 and that prior “to July 6 a set of guidelines, aligning with recommendations from the Governor’s Office, the Maine CDC, and the Maine Department of Education, will be developed for what this in-person instruction might involve.”

“We’re going to have to wait and see. What restrictions are listed and what are we able to do,” D’Andrea said.

If the league can open, it will also include recently graduated seniors. In its first three seasons, the league purposely was designed for those would be in high school in the next academic year.

MID COAST BABE RUTH canceled its season Monday. Don Shields, the president of the league, said in a press release the decision was based on three key factors. The league could not hold any practices until after June 1 when the 10-person limit on gatherings is expected to be relaxed; after June 1 social distancing guidelines would add further difficulties; and many of the league’s teams do not have a field to practice or play on because schools have closed their facilities.

Chartered in 1950 under a different name, the Mid Coast Babe Ruth is the oldest active Babe Ruth league in Maine. It draws players from 45 communities, including Belfast, Rockport, Rockland and Camden. The league plans to resume play next year on May 16. Babe Ruth baseball is played nationally by 13-to-18-year-olds.

LITTLE LEAGUE in Maine announced over the weekend that it will not hold any district or state tournaments this year but stopped short of canceling its season.

District 6 Commissioner Bill Finely, who oversees leagues in Cumberland and Oxford counties, said he will be meeting Sunday with league representatives from his district to discuss how to have a season. Finley is confident it can happen, with significant modifications. He also noted that Little League International has come out with a handbook for restarting a season during the pandemic.

“I can tell you, for this season, dugouts are pretty much out, except maybe one or two people at a time,” Finley said. “Everyone would be wearing (face) masks.”

Finley said he could also foresee playing without umpires “at least until August,” and having coaches call balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound. Or, local leagues could look to a Little League pilot program that is essentially a throwback to sandlot ball, where players pick the teams, make their own calls, and basically run the game by themselves.

“I think that’s pretty cool,” Finley said.

Games and practices of any type will hinge on field space.

“We probably won’t be able to get going until the middle of June because we’re still reliant on the recreation departments and the high schools (provide) us the fields,” Finley said. “Probably 90 percent of our leagues, they require the towns’ fields.”


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