Maine’s American Legion baseball scene has experienced its share of challenges in recent years.
Competition from wooden-bat high school summer leagues in southern Maine as well as regional travel teams and multi-team showcases designed to attract college baseball recruiters have coincided with a dip in the number of American Legion baseball programs around the state.
After the cancellation of the 2020 Legion season due to COVID-19, it might have been legitimate to ask whether the summer baseball tradition would survive the pandemic.
American Legion baseball is set to return in 2021 with approximately the same number of teams as it fielded in 2019.
Eighteen Senior Legion teams for players ages 19 and under will be divided evenly between North and South zones, while 17 Junior Legion teams for players 17 and under will participate, nine in the North and eight in the South.
“We’re going to keep offering it, we’re excited about it,” said Dave Paul of Veazie, a former American Legion baseball coach and longtime Zone 1 commissioner who continues to serve on the state Legion baseball committee.
“There’s still a niche, there’s still people that don’t want to spend $1,500 to $2,000 to play travel baseball but still want to play baseball in the summer,” he said.
That effort to preserve American Legion baseball has been boosted by an influx of new committee members joining veterans Paul, state baseball director David Gray of Farmington and field director Dennis Damon of Trenton.
Those additions include Senior Legion baseball commissioner Ryan Lincoln, head baseball coach at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland, Senior Legion assistant commissioner Chris Bushway of Bangor and Junior Legion commissioner Scott Cournoyer of Swanville.
Last summer, Cournoyer developed two independent leagues after the Legion schedule was canceled.
“We’ve had two meetings with the whole committee there and it’s been the best it’s been in quite some time with ideas and new blood and energy,” Paul said.
Lincoln and Cournoyer recently completed 18-game regular-season schedules for the state’s Senior and Junior Legion divisions, collaborating to synchronize those slates to minimize conflicts and ensure field availability.
“Ryan and I have been on the phone, and I think we’re pushing 100 hours combined since the beginning of the year trying to coordinate everything and work together to make it as seamless as possible for everyone involved,” Cournoyer said.
The Senior Legion North zone will have Bangor, Central Maine (Fairfield), Erskine (South China), Hampden, Machias, Quirk Motor City of Bangor, Sebasticook (Newport-Pittsfield), Tidewater Oil of Belfast and Trenton.
The South will consist of Augusta, Bessey Motors of South Paris, Falmouth, Franklin County (Farmington), Pastime Club of Lewiston, Staples Crossing of South Berwick, Topsham, Turner and Ware-Butler (Kingfield area).
Maine fielded 16 Senior Legion teams in 2019, down from an all-time high of 48 in 2007.
“Of course we’d love to see more teams but at the same time it’s good that the retainment is there, and being able to keep Legion around is a big thing,” said Lincoln, who with Searsport High School coach John Frye will coach the Quirk Motor City Senior team.
The Senior Legion season starts June 19 and runs through July 20.
The top four teams in each division advance to the state tournament July 24-28 at Husson University in Bangor. The champion qualifies for the American Legion Northeast Regional slated Aug. 3-8 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
The American Legion Senior World Series will be held Aug. 12-17 in Shelby, North Carolina.
The state’s Junior Legion ranks will feature 17 teams in 2021 compared to 21 in 2019.
The North zone will consist of Acadians Post 207 of Trenton, Bouchard Cleaning Riverhawks of Hampden-Brewer, Downeast Storm of Calais, Hermon Hawks, Machias, Rock Coast Riptide of Camden, Skowhegan, Tidewater Oil of Belfast and Quirk Motor City of Bangor.
Teams in the South are Auburn Post 153, Capital Area (Augusta), Fairfield, Oxford Hills (South Paris), Topsham, Turner Bandits, Ware-Butler Eagles (Oakland), and Waterville AYCC.
The Junior Legion regular-season schedule goes June 6 through July 25, followed by North and South tournaments and a season-ending state tournament in August at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
The Juniors will play regular-season contests on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday while the Seniors will play on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Cournoyer, who works as a fraud strategies analyst for Bank of America, also has developed a website for Maine American Legion baseball. It will provide updated standings, schedules and scores and directions to fields around the state.
That website is Leagues.teamlinkt.com/2021alb.