BANGOR, Maine — The Senior League World Series may be gone after a 15-year stay in the Queen City, but Mansfield Stadium won’t be without a significant baseball presence on the first weekend of August.
The New England Zone 1 Junior Legion championships, an eight-team, three-day event, is scheduled to be played Aug. 4-6.
The tournament will feature five New England state champions — all but Vermont — along with a second Maine team as the host state and two other qualifying teams to be determined, according to Maine Junior Legion director Rod Stevens of Skowhegan.
The single-elimination format will guarantee each participating team at least two games, with four games on Aug. 4, two championship semifinals and two consolation games on Aug. 5, and the third-place game and championship game on Aug. 6.
Stevens said 2017 marked Maine’s turn to host the New Englands and that he originally planned to stage the event at Colby College in Waterville.
But after connecting with Mansfield Stadium officials David Mansfield and Ron St. Pierre, the decision was made to hold the event in Bangor, in part because of the facility as well as because of its experience hosting a major tournament such as the Senior League World Series.
“I’m also the Skowhegan JV baseball coach so I was up there last Friday and when I got there I thought, ‘This is absolutely the place to do it,’” said Stevens. “The tournament will get a lot more exposure in Bangor, they’ve got a fine facility and they said they’re willing and able.”
There is no national Junior Legion tournament for the New England champion to advance to this year, but Stevens said the inaugural Junior Legion national tournament will be held in 2018 at Shelby, North Carolina, the longtime home of the Senior Legion World Series.
Junior Legion baseball is relatively new in northern and eastern Maine for players ages 16 and under, though the program has existed in southern Maine for a decade.
Bangor fielded a Junior Legion team in 2014 and 2015, winning the state championship in 2014, and the city will field one of seven teams in that age division this summer from communities with established state Zone 1 Senior Legion programs.
Other Junior Legion teams from the region will be Hampden, Trenton, Skowhegan, two clubs from the Post 51 (Oakland-Fairfield) area and the Penquis Navigators of Dover-Foxcroft, which has opted to focus on Junior Legion this summer while not fielding a Senior Legion team.
They will be among 19 Junior Legion teams statewide divided into northern and southern zones, with the the northern zone tournament and state tournament set to be contested at Colby College.
Legion baseball supporters hope having the New England Junior Legion tournament in Bangor will boost regional interest in developing more Junior and Senior Legion programs, perhaps with Junior Legion teams serving as the catalyst for reversing a trend that has seen the Zone 1 Senior Legion ranks dip from a high of 11 teams to just six this summer.
“I just think there’s some continuity to Junior Legion baseball, and hopefully communities can look at it from the sense that they’ve got kids who are playing JV baseball and Junior Legion is an extension of that season,” said Bangor Senior Legion coach Dave Morris, who is the varsity coach at Bangor High School. “The kids are familiar with each other from playing the number of games they do during the spring and then if they can stay together and go through the summer together it just makes a lot of sense to me.
“If other communities can jump on board with this, I really think it’s going benefit kids because they’re going to be able to continue with that competitive play throughout the summer and that’s going to help baseball in Maine.”
This summer, for instance, there are no Senior Legion teams north of Greater Bangor and no Junior Legion programs north of Dover-Foxcroft. Another void exists along the coast where there are no Senior or Junior Legion programs between the Bath-Topsham area and Trenton.
“I do feel there’s a lot of room for growth,” said Stevens.