Fewer teams playing more games marks the American Legion Zone 1 baseball schedule this summer.
The roster of teams has dwindled by one with Waldo County-based Steamboat Petroleum opting not to field a team this summer due to a lack of players, according to Zone 1 commissioner Dave Paul.
“But the kids there who want to play Legion baseball will still have that opportunity,” he said. “Camden Hills kids who were going to Waldo can now play in Rockland for Zone 2 Amato’s. Mount View kids will have the opportunity to play for the [Zone 2] South China team, and the Belfast and Searsport kids will have a choice, they’ll be able to go to Rockland if they want to, or if they want to come this way and try to play for Hampden, they can do that, too.
“Even though there won’t be a team in Waldo County, they’ll still have the opportunity to play.”
The loss of Steamboat Petroleum leaves Zone 1 with eight teams — the Acadians of Blue Hill, Bangor, Brewer, Calais, Hampden, Lincoln Lumber, Motor City of Bangor and Penquis of Dover-Foxcroft — with each team set to play each other three times for a 21-game regular-season schedule, five more games than last year’s 16-game slate.
“The feeling I got is that the coaches wanted to play more baseball, and we should play more baseball,” said Paul.
The regular season is slated to begin Wednesday, June 15, the evening the final high school regional championship games are scheduled and before the state finals that are set for Saturday, June 18.
“That’s a little early because the high school playoffs are still going on,” said Paul, “but with the schedule squeeze we face at the back end with having to get teams sent to state tournaments and on to regionals, teams that can will open on the 15th.”
And while there will be more regular-season games, the Zone 1 tournament field will be reduced from six to five teams.
The fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the regular-season standings will meet in a play-in game on July 16, with the winner joining the top three seeds in a four-team, double-elimination format beginning the next day and running through July 20.
“We thought with nine teams in the zone it was a little bit watered down to have six teams,” said Paul. “So with going back to eight teams we just cut it back by one so instead of having six of eight teams qualifying for the zone tournament we thought it would be a better ratio to have five of eight qualify.”
The Zone 1 champion earns an automatic berth to the state American Legion tournament at Augusta from July 27 through July 31.
The Zone 1 runner-up will face the Zone 2 (Central Maine) runner-up in one of two state tournament play-in games to be held at Augusta on July 23. Runners-up from Zones 4 and 5 will meet in the other play-in game, while the Zone 3 runner-up will advance directly to the states this year under a rotational format.
The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach is set to host the American Legion Northeast Regional tournament for the next two years, this year on Aug. 4-8. That eight-team tournament field will include host Fayette-Staples Post of Saco as well as championship teams from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and part of New York.
“The Legion officials are very excited,” said Paul. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had the regionals in Maine. The only time I can remember it being here was in 1991 when the Brewer committee headed by Jim White put it together and hosted it at Mahaney Diamond.
“It’s been talked about, certainly, but finally it’s coming through.”
This year’s American Legion national tournament will be held Aug. 12-16 in Shelby, N.C.