BANGOR, Maine — Youth baseball is prospering in the city, as evidenced by Bangor High School’s run to last Saturday’s Class A state championship.
Organizers of Bangor’s American Legion baseball program hope the addition of a Junior Legion team for younger players provides even more developmental opportunities.
“We’re just interested in getting more kids playing baseball,” said Dave Morris, head coach of the Bangor Comrades Senior American Legion team and manager of the new Bangor Cadets Junior Legion club. “And we hope to complement the existing programs that are part of Bangor baseball from Junior League and middle school to Senior League and the high school teams.”
Junior Legion baseball has existed in Maine for seven years and is open to players age 13 to 17 compared with the traditional Senior Legion, which involves players age 14 to 19.
The new Bangor entry is one of 19 Junior Legion teams statewide and plays its home games at Mahaney Diamond on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono. The Cadets, under head coach Tim Bush and assistants Brandon Portwine and Carl Farnham, have a 17-player roster that plays single games Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as doubleheaders on Saturdays.
“It’s really an extension of the [high school junior varsity] season,” said Morris.
The Junior Legion program does overlap the city’s Junior League and Senior League baseball programs from an age-eligibility perspective just as Senior Legion has overlapped with Senior League over the years. Senior League is the Little League Baseball division for players 14 to 16, while Junior League is for 13- and 14-year-olds.
That overlap sparked some concern regarding potential schedule conflicts when talk of fielding a Junior Legion team in Bangor first surfaced, particularly given that the Senior League World Series — Little League’s global championship tournament for that division — is held at Mansfield Stadium each August, and many players on the Junior Legion team also could be eligible to play on as a potential Bangor Senior League World Series representative.
The Bangor Senior League program is part of Maine District 3, and the district’s tournament champion each summer gains automatic entry into the weeklong Senior League World Series as its host team. Bangor has represented District 3 in the Senior League World Series eight times in the 12 years the event has been held in the city — reaching the world championship game in 2010.
But some compromises have been worked out, leaving both local American Legion and Junior-Senior League baseball officials content.
The Bangor Junior Legion team has been provided back-to-back byes late in its 18-game regular-season schedule to accommodate its players who will compete in the District 3 Senior League tournament that begins July 10.
The District 3 champion is then idle until the start of the Senior League World Series save for practices, but the 16-team Junior Legion state playoffs follow beginning July 22, according to Al Livingston, state Junior League commissioner. They conclude with a four-team, double-elimination tournament Aug. 1-4 at a site to be determined, with the state champion qualifying for a Northeast regional tourney beginning Aug. 9 at Gill Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire.
But since that regional conflicts with the Senior League World Series — which has opening ceremonies Aug. 9 followed by the start of pool play Aug. 10 — Morris said if Bangor teams both win the Junior Legion state crown and qualify for the Senior League World Series the Junior Legion club would forfeit its regional tournament berth so its players on both teams could participate in the Senior League World Series.
If Bangor Senior Legion players were to win a state title and also qualify for the Senior League World Series, they might still face a decision on whether to participate in the Senior League World Series or the Senior Legion Northeast Regional if the respective tournament dates were in conflict. But that’s the same potential dilemma they’ve faced for the last 12 years — one avoided largely because Bangor has not won a Senior Legion state championship since 1979.
“We’ve always worked the best we could to accommodate both teams,” said Mike Brooker, executive director of the Senior League World Series, “and I foresee nothing different this year.
“It benefits the kids to play as much baseball as possible.”
Both Brooker and Morris see significant benefits to having multiple summer baseball programs in the city.
Morris, also an assistant baseball coach at Bangor High School, envisions more opportunities to develop pitching depth with the addition of a Junior Legion schedule, as well as the chance to expand the breadth of opponents Bangor faces during the summer.
The Bangor Junior Legion club, off to a 4-2 start through Sunday’s games, has been placed in a five-team division with teams based in Augusta, Bath, Fairfield and Skowhegan. The Cadets also play South Portland, Cheverus of Portland, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Yarmouth and Gray-New Gloucester during its regular season.
“We had 13 pitchers in the high school program who have pitched,” said Morris. “In any other year, you might get six or seven that do the majority of the pitching. But by having more games in the summer, we hopefully can get all of our pitchers some pretty significant innings.
“We also get to play some of the teams Bangor plays during the high school season as well as some teams from the Zone 4 [Portland area] Legion ranks, so it will allow us to play some different opponents.”
For the Senior League and Junior League programs, the addition of a Junior Legion schedule will provide some of its players additional game experience in advance of a possible Senior League World Series appearance.
Brooker said the Maine District 3 Senior League champion typically plays a 12- to 14-game schedule followed by as many as four District 3 tournament contests before advancing to the Senior League World Series.
That compares with the other nine teams in the Senior League World Series field that in many cases must win numerous qualifying tournaments to earn their tickets to Bangor.
“Our kids have played about 20 games overall, and then they’re playing Hawaii or California or Florida kids who have played 65 to 80 games,” Brooker said. “With our kids, having the chance to play more games has the potential to help them if they’re fortunate enough to qualify for the World Series.”