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Youth baseball

American Legion strikes out on season, but 'informal' local games may happen

Midcoast diamond action, in more informal settings, could still step to plate
By Mark Haskell | May 11, 2020
Courtesy of: American Legion and Maine American Legion baseball; artwork by Holly Vanorse Spicer

Belfast — Optimism seemed high for the probability of American Legion baseball this season. All signs pointed to the league — which showcases baseball players ages 13-19 across two divisions — being given the green light to swing away with an anticipated start later in the summer.

However, word came down from American Legion National Headquarters on Friday, May 8 that the 2020 season, due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, has been canceled.

American Legion baseball is a summertime fixture in the Pine Tree State with junior and senior leagues. It also features regional tournaments, in addition to the American Legion World Series, all of which have been canceled.

David Gray, state chairman for American Legion baseball in Maine, expressed disappointment in the decision.

“Our organization here, their number one priority, like everywhere else in the country, is safety and concern for young people,” he said. “That was the driving factor.”

Gray said the executive committee for American Legion baseball in the state “had voted to cancel it [on a statewide basis] and we were trying to come up with a proposal to get them to reverse [before nationals canceled].”

“This was basically the nail in the coffin,” he said. “We have no way to get insurance and things of that nature. I’m having another conference call tonight, but it’s basically just to tie up loose ends.”

“We were working on that [the proposal] and we were very committed to try to get this to take place,” said Gray. “But again, it’s out of our hands now and there’s not a thing we can do to help the situation at this point. Other than to come back next year bigger, stronger and with more teams.”

However, according to Scott Cournoyer, the general manager and president of Midcoast American Legion baseball, the sport, in a more informal setting, could still be on the horizon.

“Disheartening is the word that comes to mind,” said Cournoyer of the decision. “I just feel sad for the kids. But, [I’m] immediately hopeful at the very quick response from other communities and other coaches that they want to make something happen.”

After receiving an email from Rod Stevens, Junior Legion state commissioner, about the league’s cancellation, Cournoyer said “Immediately multiple coaches from other teams replied and said ‘please reconsider’ or ‘who’s up for something else?’ ”

Cournoyer said Stevens replied to say they “are still working on something to have competitive, organized baseball.”

According to the email sent from American Legion national headquarters, “those baseball teams that wish to continue playing 2020 season baseball shall be participating in a sporting event not sponsored, nor endorsed in any manner, by the American Legion National Organization, but sponsored and endorsed solely by the group the team is named.”

The email went on to say that teams that go forward "will need to determine their rules, guidelines, schedules, insurance coverage, etc. for their own programs as the American Legion National Organization will not provide this assistance."

Cournoyer said he reached out to his coaches about moving forward “and got immediate, positive responses.”

"I’m going to do everything in my power that I can to still have organized baseball this summer," he said.

According to Cournoyer, he, Stevens and other interested coaches plan to have a meeting on Thursday, May 14 to go over details and logistics of a makeshift, grassroots league, which could feature several teams statewide.

There are many details to consider where American Legion baseball would not be the league’s governing body, including making sure players are in the appropriate age groups. Cournoyer said the meeting “will be discussing the logistics of who is in, when and how we want to structure it and ensuring fairness in the competition of everything.”

“Overall from all the coaches I’ve met in legion, I like them all and they’re all doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would try and exploit any guidelines we put in place.”

Midcoast, which draws from the towns that comprise the school districts of Belfast Area High School, Mount View High School of Thorndike, Searsport District High School and Camden Hills Regional High School of Rockport, will have enough players for U17 and U19 teams, Cournoyer said.

The U19 team will be coached by Chris Lavalle, Penson Bartlett, Tim Moody and Kurt Payson; while the U17 team will be coached by Mike Savage, Fred Black, Matt Smith and Brandon Hurd.

Of note, Lavalle also is the Belfast varsity baseball coach and Hurd the Mount View varsity baseball coach.

Cournoyer plans to push forward with tryouts, tentatively scheduled for Sunday, June 7 at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, June 10 at 5 p.m., at Belfast Area High School’s baseball field, pending facility use approval.

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