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It’s go-time for the CT Elite Baseball Association, the independent league that’s been set up as a one-year stopgap to fill the breach for American Legion baseball. The CTEBA features a total of 82 teams across four age brackets.
“There was a lot of work put into this to make this come off,” said Doug Wedge, coach of the Meriden Cobras. “The teams that are in this really want to play.”
Wedge was among the first to talk about staging an independent league when the national and Connecticut American Legion organizations cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic back in mid-May.
The CTEBA is being overseen by former director of Connecticut American Legion baseball Craig Zimmerman along with fellow state Legion officials Tim Vincent, Jeff Clarke and Chuck Berry. That group started hosting weekly Zoom meetings in May to work out the wrinkles for the league that opens play this weekend.
As Wedge said, “These four guys really took the ball and ran with it.”
The CTEBA follows the Legion model. Along with employing the same rules, such as wood bats and pitch counts, the state is grouped into divisions that roughly mirror Legion zones.
Grouped in Division 1 are Avon, Berlin, Bristol, Cheshire, Meriden, Newington, Simsbury and West Hartford. Division 2 is Branford, East Haven, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford and West Haven.
The season started this past weekend and teams will play into August, with a playoff tournament to cap the season.
The age brackets are the traditional ones for Legion ball — U19, U17 and U15 — with a new U14 loop added to the mix.
Once Phase II of Gov. Ned Lamont’s state reopening plan went into effect in June, outdoor activities like baseball had the green light to resume. Baseball will resume, however, following state-issued health and safety guidelines.
In the CTEBA, players will wear masks whenever they’re not on the field. Benches and equipment will be sanitized before games.
“Our kids are excited to be playing. For them, it’s a little bit back to normal,” said Chris Bishop, president of the Wallingford Cardinals, that town’s youth baseball umbrella organization. “Obviously, we still have restrictions on how we can do things, but at least it’s somewhat of a resemblance of normal. It’s definitely a different world, but not anything that is over the top at all.”
Echoed Wedge, “In the big picture of it, it’s not a hardship to do all this stuff to get a chance to go out and play baseball.”
Wedge noted that the CTEBA season helps compensate for the lost high school season, especially for the senior players. It also provides a stage for underclassmen to be seen by college coaches.
“You can tell they missed playing baseball. Something that might have been taken for granted in past years, they now have a full appreciation of it,” Wedge said. “They almost lost a whole season. It’s bad enough losing high school. They could have lost everything. We made sure that didn’t happen. As long as the virus kept cooperating — as much as a virus can cooperate — we would do everything in our power to have a season, and we did.”