Scott Cournoyer of Swanville and his son Brandon love baseball.
But Brandon was deprived of playing his senior year at Belfast High School when the spring season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Little League-affiliated season and American Legion campaign also were canceled.
To give his son and other kids in eastern Maine the opportunity to compete this summer, Scott Cournoyer formed two leagues for players ages 14-19.
The target date for the new leagues to begin playing games is June 24. There are already 21 teams, some of which have begun holding tryouts.
So far, there are 14 ballclubs composed of players age 17 and under and seven more for those 19 and under.
“I love baseball and that’s why I’m putting so much time and effort into this,” said Scott Cournoyer, the general manager and president of Midcoast American Legion baseball. “We have put together a facility use plan to keep the kids as reasonably safe as possible.”
The leagues are following guidelines for summer sports outlined by Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Keeping everyone safe is our top priority,” Cournoyer said.
The New England Elite Baseball League for players ages 10-18 also is planning to begin play on June 13.
Brandon Portwine, owner of Sluggers Baseball and Softball Training Facility in Brewer, said the Massachusettes-based EBL is a travel league with teams from Maine and other New England states that played on weekends.
With the COVID-19 restrictions, EBL administrators instead set up leagues within each state.
Portwine said the EBL usually starts in April and has finished by now.
“We’re going from June 13 to July 19 and the playoffs will begin on July 26,” said Portwine, who has seven Sluggers teams playing in the EBL.
That includes three that will also play in Cournoyer’s league, which will involve midweek games in addition to weekend contests.
Parents were given a form they must sign that acknowledges their youngsters will be participating in an activity that will increase their odds of being exposed to COVID-19.
Players won’t have to wear face coverings but must adhere to social distancing guidelines. They have to use their own equipment and may not share it. Baseballs will be changed after every half-inning and will be sanitized before put back into play.
Spectators must wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing.
“Scott has put in a lot of legwork and come up with a plan [that adheres to the state’s guidelines],” said Matt Moody, one of the coaches for the Waldoboro’s U17 team. “It’ll be nice to get the kids some at-bats.”
Calais, which will field a U17 team, has conducted two tryouts with 20 players at each practice.
“It has been unreal. Everybody is just so happy to be out on the field. Everybody has been longing for this,” said John Sewell, one of the Calais coaches. “The kids want to play baseball and they also want to see their friends, even if it is at a distance.”
The U17 league includes teams from Calais, Machias, Midcoast [Belfast area], Hermon, Hampden, Brewer, Turner, Camden, Waldoboro, Fairfield, Falmouth, Oakland and Augusta. Each will play 14 league games followed by playoffs. There is one U19 league which likely will have a similar schedule.
Cournoyer said teams will be split into North and South divisions once all the teams are finalized. There could be two teams from Augusta and he has also heard from managers in Bangor and Houlton about the possibility of fielding teams.
The U19 teams will be from Skowhegan, Fairfield, Midcoast, Oakland, Hampden-Hermon and two teams from Sluggers.
One of the stumbling blocks for the leagues has been field availability.
Several teams do not have a field because the facilities are owned or operated by towns, recreation departments and school districts, many of which remain shut down.
Other potential teams were unable to commit to the leagues because they didn’t have confirmed access to a field.
Cournoyer said teams that lack a field may elect to participate and play all of their games on the road while alternating the “home” designation.
“We’re going to play all of our games on the road because we don’t have access to a field,” said Portwine, who is hoping fields in the Bangor area will be made available next month.
His teams work out the Sluggers indoor facility and he has set up a batting cage, a bullpen and a hitting net outside so players can practice outdoors.
There are roster spots available on all of the Sluggers teams and Portwine can be reached at 951-2250.
Sluggers also is sponsoring a U10 girls softball team that will begin tournament play in July in the Waterville area.
Cournoyer has set a June 15 deadline for teams to advise whether they will have enough players to field a team and an available facility.
All teams must have insurance and pay an entry fee.
Sewell said Shane Curtis and the husband-and-wife tandem of Matt Vinson and Jayna Smith have played integral roles in the evolution of their team. The entry, the Downeast Storm, will include players from Calais, Baileyville, Woodland, Eastport, Princeton and Indian Township. It has access to fields in Calais and Baileyville.
Portwine also is glad kids will have the opportunity to play this summer.
“And this offers hope for the future,” he said.