MERIDEN — American Legion baseball players fell behind deep in the count Tuesday. They aren’t necessarily down on strikes just yet, however.
On Tuesday, the Connecticut State American Legion Baseball Committee, following the lead of the rest of New England and much of the country, announced the cancelation of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Legion teams, however, are free to try to salvage something of the summer, be it in another organization or in some kind of independent league of their own design.
It’s along the lines of the latter that Meriden Post 45 coach Doug Wedge is thinking.
More than thinking, actually. Wedge has a fairly detailed vision for a league that would maintain a sense of continuity for Legion programs. While independent, it would abide by Legion rules — wood bats, pitch counts, for instance.
“It’s a Legion product, with Legion teams, using the Legion stuff,” Wedge said Tuesday. “You can have the heart of the rules be Legion. It’s just to keep the Legion program going in our area.
“In my mind, we had to have a contingency plan,” Wedge added. “If we’re allowed to play baseball, but the state (Legion) wasn’t going to support it, what was our backup plan?”
With the CIAC high school spring season officially canceled last week and the state still shut down until at least May 20, Connecticut Legion baseball officials had been looking at ways to have some kind of 2020 season, even if it was delayed. Time frames were drawn up for four different start dates, from the traditional mid-June opening to one as late as post-July 6.
Then the American Legion National Organization announced late last week it would not be involved in the 2020 season. That meant no regional tournaments and no national World Series.
It also meant no national insurance coverage.
Health, safety and insurance concerns were also prompting individual states to cancel their seasons. In the Northeast, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the last holdouts. Massachusetts pulled the plug Monday. Connecticut made its announcement Tuesday morning.
“It is with great disappointment that we announce that the 2020 Connecticut State American Legion baseball season has been suspended,” CT American Legion Baseball posted on its web site. “The National American Legion has shut down all sponsorship and all involvement in baseball for the 2020 season. The Department of Connecticut has also shut down all sponsorship. As a result, there is no insurance for our teams at this time and without insurance we cannot play or conduct any baseball activities.”
The same message mentioned a decision being made no later than June 1 on “whether or not we can have a viable season outside of the American Legion.”
That caused some confusion and was removed from the web site shortly thereafter. David Greenleaf, chairman of the CT State American Legion Baseball Committee, made it clear: The 2020 season was canceled.
“We used the word ‘suspend’ and not ‘cancelled,’” Greenleaf said. “It’s not going to happen.”
The field, though, is still open to grassroots, and that’s ground Wedge is hoping cultivate as an independent.
“They can do whatever they want as long as they can find the insurance,” Greenleaf said. “But it can’t have any American Legion name on it.”
Wedge is confident insurance can be acquired — travel teams, such as ones Wedge has been involved with in Meriden, purchase their own as a matter of course. For Legion teams, the money that normally goes to national and state coffers for insurance and other costs will, in theory, help pay for it.
Wedge is also confident there is considerable interest in a local league among neighboring towns.
“I’m just getting early feedback,” he said. “Wallingford’s all gung-ho. North Haven jumped on ... We’ll see what the feedback is. We’ll go from there.”
Wedge points to Meriden’s Legion Field on Hanover Road as a potential home base.
For starters, it’s privately owned, by Meriden American Legion Post 45. Most Legion programs played at high schools or public fields, all of which are currently closed and subject to re-opening by state order. That poses potential scheduling issues.
Meriden also has some experience as a host. For the past two summers, the Southern sectional tournament and state championship series has played at Ceppa Field.
Wedge envisions a 20-24 game schedule for all participating teams, who would be asked to kick in funds for umpires and field maintenance supplies.
“We can actually run the whole season on Meriden’s field,” Wedge remarked. “We could accommodate that in Meriden.”
An independent league would be for this summer only. It would be no permanent replacement for Legion ball, but rather a bridge over what fell through in 2020.
“I’m trying to be very creative and proactive with this,” Wedge said “One, you don’t want to bury the Legion name. You want to keep your kids intact as much as possible.
“Two, you want to give a season to those kids because they didn’t have a high school season,” Wedge continued. “Some of these kids are very good ballplayers and they have college aspirations. Three, we want to be able to give the college coaches a chance to come out as see these kids.”