While all American Legion schedules around the state have been zapped by continued concerns over the stubborn coronavirus, R.I. Legion’s Board of Directors and coaches confirmed there is a plan for baseball to be played in the Ocean State this summer at a live meeting held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Warwick on June 11.
“It’s a go; we are going to have a league, though it is not and cannot be affiliated at all with American Legion,” said Upper Deck head coach Matt Allard. “It will be called the R.I. 19-20 Elite Baseball League, with the ‘19’ standing for, of course, COVID-19, and the ‘20’ for the year.”
According to Allard, members of the board – including R.I. Legion President Corey Bates, Treasurer Dave Sciappa, Jim Morrison, Jim Foster and George Walmsley – informed attending coaches of the strict guidelines they must follow for both practices and games, and all agreed to begin the impromptu league campaign on July 6.
The start will depend on whether Gov. Gina Raimondo chooses to enact Phase 3 of her four-phase plan to reopen the state sometime in early July.
Allard indicated that eight of the usual 11 legion senior division programs opted to participate in a 14-game regular-season slate beginning July 6, and that all eight teams will make the postseason tourney. Though it won’t play under its usual Post 39 banner, South Kingstown is expected to be one of the eight teams in the league.
The postseason format will include teams being seeded by record one through eight, followed by single-elimination contests until two finalists emerge. That’s when a three-game set will be held to decide the eventual league champion.
Those squads who elected to take part include South Kingstown; Upper Deck and Howard-Rogers of Pawtucket/Central Falls; Gershkoff/Auburn of Cranston; R&R Construction of Newport; Scituate; West Warwick; and New England Frozen Lemonade of Warwick.
Two of the three who opted out include Navigant Credit Union of Woonsocket and Collette Vacations of Riverside/East Providence.
John Parente, who has been involved with R.I. American Legion for decades now as manager of West Warwick Post 2 and American Legion President, among other positions served, will assemble each team’s schedule. Each team may have up to 15 players present at each practice or game, though up to three individuals may be “called up” from the Junior to the Senior Division in case of injury, etc.
A Junior Division slate like the one in the older category will be formed as well.
“At this meeting, they gave us the name of the league and all of the guidelines we have to follow; those essentially are the all ones set down by the CDC,” Allard said. “Needless to say, this year will not be an ordinary year in terms of standard Legion fees. We at Upper Deck usually purchase bats, helmets and other equipment for the guys, and we also give them two hats, two jerseys (for home and away tilts) and warmup gear.
“This summer, they’ll get one hat and one jersey, and they’ll have to fend for themselves when it comes to pants, batting gloves, etc.,” he continued. “It will be very cost-effective for the kids, and for the teams as well, though we have to pay for team insurance (as Legion won’t because of the season’s cancellation), field rentals, umpire fees.
“Some of the rules will be tough to abide by, but we have to if we want to play, and we do.”
Among the rules:
• All parents must sign a COVID release form if they want their child to play.
• Only one umpire will be on hand for each game, and he will not stand behind the catcher but instead at the pitcher’s mound. That’s where he will call balls and strikes – and plays in the infield and outfield.
• There will be no use of the dugouts, except, perhaps, by the manager and assistants. All players must sit or stand on the outside of the left- or right-field fences, six feet apart. They also must sanitize their equipment if someone else uses it.
• Each team will use their own baseballs when their pitcher walks to the mound.
• If a manager or coach wants to talk to his pitcher on the hill, he must wear a mask.
“When I went over everything initially, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a lot. We’re going to have to figure out a lot in the next couple of weeks, but my goal is to get in our first practice sometime next week,” Allard admitted. “Only 15 players? That’ll be hard, but not impossible.
“Still, the more I thought about it, this is all worthwhile because it’s all about the kids, and they want to play ball,” he added. “I don’t blame them. Heck, I want to coach, too. I miss it.”