Augusta Little League players run the outfield during dynamic warmups before starting an evaluation June 2 at Linscott Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Thad Barber had a team. He had a sponsor. And he had nowhere for it to play.

Barber coaches the South China Subway team in Dirigo Little League, but when the league announced it wouldn’t be having a season due to the coronavirus, Barber wasn’t sure about a plan B for his players.

“I was extremely worried,” he said. “I kept my eye out and was looking around, trying to find a place.”

He found a home with Augusta Little League, which began its season June 2 and opened itself up to teams from outside the area that were looking for a chance to play after their own leagues canceled their seasons. There is a minors team from Dirigo, another from Maranacook Cal Ripken and there’s a majors team made up of players from both Dirigo and Maranacook.

Games begin Saturday. Barber is happy his team will be on the field.

“For Augusta to let us bring a team in there, I thought was just really excellent,” said Barber, who coaches his 9-year-old son, Tyler. “These guys didn’t have to do this. … It’s been excellent, I can’t say enough about it.”

Augusta Little League president Mike Karagiannes, whose league worked together with Hall-Dale Little League to get ready for the season, said he was happy to give more kids the chance to play.

“I’m ecstatic. I think it’s the best thing,” he said. “We concentrate on COVID’s effect physically, but the mental aspects of how COVID’s affecting us, our kids, everybody, is another huge piece to this. If we can do this right, be smart, follow the protocols and do all the other stuff, it makes sense. We should try.”

To join, teams just had to register through Augusta’s process and adhere to the league’s social distancing and sanitizing standards.

“It is a challenge, but it’s the challenge we have to do in order for us to be successful and be able to play baseball this year,” Barber said. “It’s all about doing the right thing so we can play baseball.”

Mark Hreben’s Brownies Landscaping team faces the unique challenge of organizing players from different communities, but he said working things out between Dirigo and Maranacook players hasn’t been difficult.

“The logistics have been awesome because Augusta is, really, in the middle of the Manchester-Readfield area and the China-Vassalboro area, and we have some Jefferson kids that probably have to travel the furthest,” he said. “But the field locations are great, they have two fields, they have four time slots every night for kids to practice on. And the fields are immaculate.”

A player’s helmet, bat and water bottle sit on an X during an Augusta Little League evaluation Tuesday atLinscott Field in Augusta. Each player was assigned a spot for gear along the outfield fence in order to maintain social distancing. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Hreben, who coaches his 11-year-old son, Grady, said team chemistry figured itself out quickly as well.

“Kids are kids, and the first practice they were all very shy,” he said. “But by the end of the hour and a half, they were goofing around and they were joking, like they’d been buddies for a whole summer. And you can see, every practice, they’re getting more and more used to each other and they’re bonding.”

Hreben said the players are grateful to have the chance to play.

“I think the kids really want to be there, and I think the parents will drive them wherever to play,” he said. “(Augusta was) amazing, how fast they put everything together with the kids and the teams.”

The teams will open up on Saturday, which Karagiannes said will be a litmus test for the COVID restrictions.

“I think the first couple of games will be a learning experience for all of us,” he said.

Karagiannes acknowledged that it’s been stressful to get the league set up and ready to play under the state’s health guidelines.

“I was burned out probably a week or so, just because of all the pressure and all the work that’s gone into this,” he said. “And seeing the kids at evaluations and then seeing the kids show up to the practices has just totally rejuvenated me, and many others, too. They’re just so grateful.”

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