STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The America East Conference baseball season gets under way on Saturday — two weeks earlier than usual.
The University of Maine arrived Thursday on Long Island, where it is slated to open league play with a three-game series Saturday and Sunday against defending league champion and College World Series participant Stony Brook at Joe Nathan Field.
It marks the debut of America East’s new scheduling format, one UMaine coach Steve Trimper expects to provide for better and more equitable competition. America East has implemented a 30-game schedule during which each team will play a pair of three-game series against the other five programs, one at home and the other on the road.
Trimper said the schedule has some important benefits, not the least of which is abolishing the four-game series, which taxed teams’ pitching staffs. Those weekends included 32 innings in a span of less than 30 hours.
“Now, there’s a sense of relaxation that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t play well [one weekend],” Trimper said. “Now, you’re going to see the same team again, five weeks later.”
In recent years, the Black Bears played their two “divisional” teams, Hartford and Albany, a total of six times, three games at home and three on the road.
Against the other three teams, Stony Brook, Binghamton and Maryland Baltimore County, UMaine played a single, four-game weekend set. The home team alternated every other year.
The result was a 24-game league schedule.
In order to accommodate the new arrangement, America East teams were forced to start their conference schedule a full two weeks earlier than usual.
That immediately brings early spring weather into play for most of the programs, especially UMaine, Binghamton and Albany, the northernmost members. However, there is a significant amount of built-in flexibility to help teams get in as many games as possible.
“In the first five weeks of our 10-week conference season, if the home site is unplayable, you automatically reverse the sites,” Trimper explained.
That would move the second meeting to the other team’s home field. Also, schools can’t opt to play at a neutral site during the first half of the schedule.
“For the first five weeks, if both sites are unplayable, that series is canceled and the second time you play each other, it becomes a four-game series with a doubleheader on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday,” Trimper said.
There is even further flexibility to help contend with potential weather problems as there are four days (Friday through Monday) from which to choose.
For example, if weather or field conditions are expected to disrupt play on Friday and Saturday, a series can be changed, in advance, to Sunday and Monday. Trimper said once the first game is started, all games must be completed by the end of the next day.
“We knew when we moved the schedule up, we’d be dealing with weather, but we’re doing everything possible to get those first five weeks completed,” Trimper added.
UMaine, Hartford, Binghamton and Stony Brook all have artificial turf, while UMBC has the benefit of its Mid-Atlantic location.
The three-game series will consist of a seven-inning game and a nine-inning contest on the first day, then a nine-inning game on the second day. If the seven-inning game goes to nine innings, it becomes the nine-inning game and the next game is changed to seven innings.
In spite of the new format, Trimper on Thursday said UMaine may have unwittingly placed itself in a compromising position for this weekend’s series.
Morning rain is forecast Saturday for Long Island. If the teams ultimately don’t play at least one game, it would push the series to Sunday and Monday.
UMaine, which flew into New York on its way back from the spring break trip to Florida, has airline reservations for Sunday night.
“We created the new schedule, the new rules, to make it equitable and as cost-saving as we can,” Trimper said. “There’s always going to be some scenario that comes up [that wasn’t anticipated when the policy was made].”
He said UMaine arrived Thursday in case weather forced the games to be moved to Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday.
Trimper is hopeful the Black Bears and Seawolves will be able to start the series Saturday and is confident the staff at Stony Brook will do its utmost to avoid forcing UMaine’s hand on a possible costly Sunday stayover — or a forfeit of a potential Monday game or games.