The American Legion baseball season gets under way in typical fashion today, with 11 Zone 1 teams beginning a 20-games-in-32-days battle for postseason position.
Just two games are on the opening-night schedule, with Lincoln visiting Hampden in a nine-inning game at 5:30 p.m. at Bordick Park in Hampden, while Motor City of Bangor is at Brewer for a seven-inning contest set for a 7:30 p.m. start at Heddericg Field.
A third scheduled game, Penquis of Dover-Foxcroft at Trenton, was postponed because many of Trenton’s players were competing for George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill in the Eastern Maine Class C championship game on Wednesday night.
While the regular season will involve little change from recent years, this summer’s postseason, however, will feature significant differences.
The top six teams still will qualify for the Zone 1 tournament that runs from Thursday, July 23, through Sunday, July 26, but the format for that event has been revised, according to Zone 1 commissioner Dave Paul.
Under the previous format, all six tournament qualifiers participated in a double-elimination playdown.
Under the new format, the top two seeds will receive an opening-day bye, while No. 3 will play No. 6 and No. 4 will play No. 5 in nine-inning play-in games at the Winkin Baseball Complex on the campus of Husson University in Bangor on July 23. The 4-5 game will be at 4 p.m., followed by the 3-6 game at 7 p.m.
Winners of the play-in games will advance to a four-team, double-elimination tournament that begins the next day at Husson, with reseeding to be done if there are upsets during the play-in round.
Two games will be held Friday, three games Saturday and one championship game and a possible if-necessary game on Sunday, with the champion and runnerup to advance to this year’s state tournament at Augusta.
The new format will reduce the number of zone tournament games to a maximum of nine counting the play-in games, compared to a maximum of 11 in previous years.
“It just made sense for us,” said Paul of the new format, which also has been used in Zone 2 (central Maine) in recent years. “The more the coaches talked about it, the more it seemed like the fairest way to go because six teams still go and this rewards the top two teams for their regular-season records.”
Change also will come for the second straight year to the American Legion state tournament, which will revert to an eight-team field after inviting 10 teams to the annual five-day event for the first time last summer due to the addition of a fifth zone encompassing teams from York County.
But last year’s format proved to be a bit onerous, said Paul, because of lengthy early round schedules and the fact some teams had to play twice on opening day.
Under the revised format, each of the five zone champions will advance directly to the state tournament, as will one of the runnersup to be determined on a rotating basis, beginning this year with Zone 1.
To fill out the eight-team field, the runnersup from the other four zones will match up in play-in games at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 25, at Augusta. The Zone 2 runnerup will face the Zone 4 runnerup while the Zone 3 runnerup will face the Zone 5 runnerup.
Winners of those play-in games will advance to the double-elimination state tournament that begins Thursday, July 29, also at Augusta.
“We really felt that baseball-wise and logistically, going with a 10-team double-elimination tournament was just too much,” said Paul, who was part of the state committee that developed the new format.
The Zone 1 field remains the same as in recent years, with Bangor, Brewer, Calais, Hampden-Hermon, Lincoln Lumber, Motor City of Bangor, Orono, Penquis, Presque Isle, Trenton and Waldo comprising the 11-team field.
Among coaching changes this summer, current Husson pitcher Chris Morris will take over the Brewer coaching reins from his uncle, Dave Morris, who will join the coaching Bangor Comrades, with whom his son Dylan is a catcher.
Bain Pollard, an assistant coach with the Waldo Wildcats in recent years, replaces Emery Shute as the team’s head coach. Pollard will be assisted by recent Husson standout Nick Arthers.