MERIDEN — Doug Wedge’s idea for an independent 2020 summer league for American Legion baseball teams has more than just gained traction.
It’s got a good shot of coming to fruition.
An organizational committee is scheduled to meet Saturday to start hammering out details of what the Meriden Post 45 head coach was contemplating even before the Connecticut American Legion season was canceled last Tuesday.
In a nutshell, it’s American Legion baseball teams playing by American Legion rules, just not under the official American Legion umbrella, which has been closed nationwide for the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wedge’s plan, first reported in the Record-Journal the same day Connecticut’s season was canceled, garnered immediate interest from area coaches. Word spread. The state’s 78 Legion programs were polled and more than 40 expressed interest in signing up.
So, earlier this week, the organizational committee was formed, with many of the members drawn from the Connecticut American Legion Board of Directors.
“The vast majority of our teams have expressed an interest in playing once it is deemed safe to do so and we are hopeful that most will be able to play ball this summer,” Dave Greenleaf, the state Legion chairman, remarked in an emailed statement. “This new group will be looking into insurance, legal issues, scheduling, umpires, rules, etc. for the 2020 season and they hope to have a structure in place by the end of this weekend that will allow baseball to be played as soon as the fields are open.”
“They took the ball and ran with it. All of them knew about my idea
and they liked it,” Wedge said Friday. “We kept on tacking on teams. After I talked to you, I had more teams calling me.”
On Saturday, the organizational committee is expected to divide the state into regions and forge a schedule. Teams will mostly play within their region, with a few travel games to other parts of the state mixed in.
The season would run from July 6 to the middle of August. That time frame dovetails with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s “Phase 2” state reopening on June 20, the phase that includes youth sports. Clearance on June 20 gives teams some time to practice before the season begins.
There would be approximately 20-24 games for each team. A postseason tournament is not expected to be played.
“I don’t care if we have a state tournament; I don’t care if we have a regional tournament,” said Wedge. “I just want to get these kids on a ball field playing ball. I want to get them active again. I want them to have something in their life instead of everything being, ‘No, no, no.’ ”
The official Legion season was canceled exactly one week after the CIAC, the final holdout nationwide, pulled the plug on the spring high school season on May 5.
Should Wedge’s plan come to pass, July 6 would mark one of the first returns to action for high school-aged athletes in Connecticut since the CIAC canceled what remained of the winter postseason on March 10.
The independent baseball league would also be among the first to offer a glimpse at what the immediate future of high school sports could look like. Even before the Legion season was canceled, the state Board of Directors had drawn up detailed health and safety rules for its teams to follow, including taking temperatures, social distancing and sanitizing equipment.
Wedge noted that the Meriden program will be buying, among other items, a non-contact thermometer, copious amounts of hand sanitizer and a backpack sanitizer with a four-gallon tank and application wand.
“We’re really taking that serious and trying to be ahead of the curve,” Wedge said.
There are other issues the independent league will have to address. After the Phase 2 reopening kicks in on June 20, outdoor crowd sizes will be limited to 50. With roughly 35 players, coaches and umpires a game, that doesn’t leave much room for spectators.
But that’s just for a few weeks. Acceptable outdoor crowd size doubles to 100 in the Phase 3 reopening on July 20.
Fields are another concern. A fair number of Legion programs use high school facilities. It’s not certain at this point if they will be available.
That puts a premium on privately owned fields like Meriden’s Legion Field on Hanover Road. Post 45’s home turf could be seeing quite a bit of baseball this summer.
After the sports drought of what, come July 6, will be nearly four months, that sounds quite appealing.
“Those guys who play Legion ball are more serious ball players; they want to play ball,” said Wedge. “Let’s get these kids out there and try to give them a sense of normalcy again, and baseball to them is a sense of normalcy.
“So we’ll crank it up and get ready to go.”