The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach will be the site of baseball games this summer – albeit without umpires or base stealing. The newly established Maine Summer Sandlot League will feature players 18-and-under, and apply CDC guidelines designed to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Staff file photo

American Legion baseball teams that had their season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic will have a chance to play ball this summer after all.

Matt Rogers, a volunteer baseball coach at Bowdoin College, has established the Maine Summer Sandlot League for players 18-and-under, with games scheduled to be played at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach.

He hopes to have five to six teams ready to begin play on June 18, the first of 10 dates that Rogers has secured at The Ballpark.

“What we’re trying to keep alive is hope,” said Rogers, who has been involved in local coaching for many years and is a coach with the Maine Lightning travel program. “I feel badly for a lot of people, but especially the high school or college senior spring season athletes. They’ve been robbed of things you can’t replace, you can’t get back … What these kids are clinging on at this point is hope. Every time they turn around hope is taken away, that’s how this evolved. ”

Rogers said he has invited all American Legion teams to play and that he has heard back from teams in Bath, Augusta, Topsham and Bangor that they would be willing to play. He will coach a team of players from the Portland area.

Each team will have to purchase liability insurance, and anyone who steps foot on the field will have to sign a waiver that, said Rogers, “absolves everyone of any liability if anyone catches COVID down the road.”

Rogers will open the playing dates to any team that wants to join. “I would say, literally, to anyone who has a team, has insurance, and anyone willing to play with the waiver, here are the dates we have, let’s just play,” said Rogers, who will also allow teams to combine to form one team.

It will cost each player $5 to $10 per game to cover the costs of renting The Ballpark and using its lights in the event of doubleheaders. Rogers believes the players can follow all the social distancing and safety guidelines outlined by the Maine CDC and governor’s office.

“We went through every scenario,” said Rogers. “We’re willing to send our rules to Gov. Mills or the CDC and have them say, ‘Add this or add that.’ We just want to get the kids outside to play.”

Rogers will use a sandlot format for the games. There will be no umpires, which will allow the catcher to set back farther from the batter for better social distancing. Balls and strikes will be called by the catchers. Plays in the field will be called by either the players or the first- or third-base coaches.

There will be no stolen bases, which allows base runners to socially distance from fielders. Players will socially distance in the dugout and, if necessary, sit along the outfield foul lines.

Free substitution and continuous batting order will be allowed. Each team must provide its own sanitizer and game balls, which will be sanitized between innings. There will be no sharing of equipment.

The league will also adhere to Maine Principals’ Association pitch count limits as well as the MPA’s summer guidelines, which limit high school coaches from working with their players until at least July 6.

Jason Webber, the recreation director at Old Orchard Beach, oversees the schedule at The Ballpark. He is also the varsity softball coach at Old Orchard Beach High and knows what it was like to have the season canceled.

“After losing the season it was very frustrating,” said Webber. “To know I’ll be able to walk down there and hear the crack of the bat and see kids run around and get ground balls is a good thing.”

Webber, who just took over scheduling for The Ballpark from Guy Fontaine, sees this as a step toward opening up the facility for other activities.

“What Guy has done for The Ballpark is amazing,” said Webber. “We hope to take it to the next level”


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