Jun. 21—Another senior American Legion baseball season is ready to begin in Maine this summer, with fewer teams competing than in previous years.
In the Sun Journal coverage area, Ware-Butler, Bessey Motors and the Franklin Flyers are all fielding teams, while the Turner Bandits and Pastime Club are not.
Oxford Hills-based Bessey Motors has taken in one player from Lewiston High School and one from Edward Little High School, while Turner couldn't make a team work this summer.
"Due to an article that was in the paper last year, Turner Bandits had some hoops they had to get through to have a team and couldn't make it work," Ryan Palmer, former coach for the Turner Bandits, said.
The Legion season this summer will feature games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays each week, leaving the weekends open.
Ware-Butler, composed of Mt. Abram Regional High School players and one Rangeley player — Tucker MacFawn — will benefit from this change, according to coach Jamie Phelps.
"It's an advantage for everyone," Phelps said. "I think it'll help in the long run, and basketball plays on the weekends and that's one of the major things I go up against, so I think it'll help us, for sure."
Ware-Butler has 17 rostered players, but some players will share their time between other summer sports like basketball and soccer.
Other sports competing in the summer have eaten into the time that Legion teams get to work together. Coupled with the weekday schedule that Legion has adopted, coaches have their hands full.
"It'll be interesting to see how that plays out," Franklin coach Rob Dippner said. "It'll be a little harder for us because all our kids are three-sport athletes. With the (Maine Principals' Association) rules and the way they are, it's a free-for-all for all the high school coaches. I have kids trying to manage basketball, football, baseball and soccer. On the weekend games, you were by yourself. It'll be hard to have fresh kids, but we will go with it."
Phelps said he's seen the improvement in Mt. Abram baseball players this season after playing Legion last year.
"I've seen the difference the last couple years with the high school program," Phelps said. "When we see good pitchers, I won't say we are hitting the ball as well as we want, but it's stuff they've seen. Legion has made a difference for our Mt. Abram baseball team, for sure. You start playing these Legion teams and they're the best kids in three or four high schools that we play on a regular basis. In Class C, the bottom of the orders aren't as back-loaded like they are at the top, so when you get to Legion all the kids can hit. It's good for us."
Like Ware-Butler, the Mt. Blue-based Franklin Flyers are fans of Legion because travel baseball isn't a viable option for its players.
"I think for us, we don't have the luxury of some of the other leagues out of the area, and also I was part of the meetings this winter that were trying to keep the league going for the sake of the league across the state," Dippner said. "We are trying to continue to see the league through."
"Legion works for us because for our kids to travel to Portland for the wooden bat league isn't feasible with kids working and everything," Phelps said.
Bessey Motors features seven starters from Oxford Hills' baseball team, as well as Josh Murphy from Lewiston and Aiden Gonzalez from Edward Little. Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer, who previously coached Bessey Motors, has stepped aside and Riley Chickering, Oxford Hills' junior varsity coach, has taken over.
"For me, I think it's a step up after coaching JV for a couple years," Chickering said. "Coaching at a higher level is a little scary but it's also really exciting. We are looking to compete and get to a state championship, and it's fun to be playing something."
Ethan Cutler will also join the team as a post-grad player.
"Especially how the (high school) season ended in disappointing fashion, for them, it's them moving past that and competing for a (Legion) championship," Chickering added.