The Turner Bandits, an independent baseball team, consist mostly of players from Leavitt and Dirigo high schools, pose for photo. The team includes, front row, from left, Jacob York and Dallas Berry; middle, from left, Landry Arsenault, Tanner Sawyer, Austin DeCoster, Ryan Thibeault, Derek Ducharme, Connor DeCoster, Hunter Gagliardi, Cole Brown, Matt Wallingford, Mitchell Bean; back, from left, Garrett Mollica, Jake Lacy and Brogan McCormick. Not pictured: Jordan Dunham. Submitted photo

About one month ago, the Turner Bandits’ dreams of a baseball season were dashed when the Junior American Legion baseball season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Bandits have new life thanks to a new baseball league that is taking shape and could take the field before the end of June.

The league, to be known as the Summer Independent Baseball League, consists of teams that were planning to play Junior American Legion baseball this summer.

With a roster made up mostly of players from Leavitt Area High School and Dirigo High School, the Bandits have already begun practicing and will play their first scrimmage Friday in Falmouth, according to head coach Chuck Mollica.

Terrance McCormick and Central Maine Community College baseball coach Ryan Palmer, formerly the varsity baseball coach at Dirigo, are helping Mollica coach the team.

With Maine’s high school and Legion seasons canceled this spring and some town leagues canceling their summer Babe Ruth seasona, the Summer Independent Baseball League was the last hope to get on the diamond this summer.

Organizers acted quickly once the Legion season was cancelled, telling players to stay ready for a start-up league. Mollica’s team was initially comprised of mostly of Junior Legion players from Turner, Greene, Leeds and Buckfield, then added four players from Dirigo who asked to join.

Mollica said he had no trouble finding 15 eager players for his roster.

“We’re full,” he said. “The response was very good.”

“For a lot of these kids, this is it (for baseball),” he added.

Teams from Augusta, Winthrop, Skowhegan, Fairfield and Belfast are expected to be among the 14 teams in the league spanning from Calais to Falmouth, Mollica said. That could change depending on whether teams are able to secure a home field. Teams must confirm they have permission to use their home field by June 15, at which time league officials hope to finish up the schedule.

The season is slated to begin June 24 and run through July 31.

The league will be divided into North and South divisions. Teams will play 14 regular-season games, most likely all within their division, and then the top four teams in each division advance to the playoffs, Mollica said.

League rules are loosely based on Junior Legion rules, Mollica said. Players up to age 17 are eligible.

The Bandits originally hoped to practice and play their home games on their Junior Legion field at Leavitt Area High School but have not received clearance from school officials, Mollica said. So they’ve been practicing and will host their games at Minot Consolidated School off of Shaw Hill Road.

Social distancing rules will apply and be strictly enforced for participants and parents/spectators, Mollica said. Participants are required to submit a COVID-19 waiver form signed by players and their parents.

Protocols for sanitizing baseballs and equipment have been developed. Spectators will not be allowed within 6 feet of the out-of-play line and will be required to wear masks if and when safe social distancing is not possible.

“We’ll have expanded dugouts so the kids aren’t in close quarters. They’ll be spread out,” Mollica said. “We’ll have safety marshals at the field making sure people are adhering to all of those rules.”

Some details still need to be worked out, Mollica said, such as where the playoffs will be played and whether umpires will call balls and strikes from safe social distances behind the pitcher or catcher.

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