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Summer baseball season closer to reality for Legion-aged players

The Connecticut Elite Baseball Association said it is well positioned to host the 2020 baseball season as a tentative one-year replacement for American Legion.

With insurance hurdles having been cleared rather quickly, the group is in the final stages of finalizing its summer season as Gov. Ned Lamont’s Phase 2 for reopening the state on June 17 approaches.

“Given the reopening of Connecticut rules that the governor came up with, I think we are really close,” CT Elite Baseball Association Director Craig Zimmerman said. “The final step is to get individual towns to approve of us using the facilities.”

The association finalized its rules and teams over the weekend.

“We have basically finalized all of the league rules and are waiting to see what Lamont’s reopening rules are going to be,” North Haven GM and CT Elite board member Charlie Flanagan said. “I personally for North Haven have been in contact with the Board of Ed field director and the parks and rec field director in regard to what their guidelines are going to be. I sense something will come out in the next few days both from Lamont and then from the towns.”

When the CT Elite Baseball Association was formed, it had goals of creating a league with rules that coincided with American Legion rules so there would be an easy transition back into the Legion format in 2021. American Legion at both the national and state levels were unable to help fund the league this year. All regional and national tournaments have been canceled for the year.

“We tried as best we could to follow the rules of the past so that it would be a comfortable transition next year,” Zimmerman said. “We did make some changes to make it a little bit easier for people to field teams and for kids to get to play. We added a few rules just to test them such as an extra hitter to get more kids into the game. Ninety percent of the rules are what we have seen in the past and what we will see in the future.”

Each division (which follow the format of zones under American Legion) has freedom in regard to regular-season scheduling while newly formatted state tournaments will take place at different age groups.

“It looks like in (Division) 2 (Greater New Haven), it’s going to be an 18-game schedule with four games a week,” Flanagan said. “There was also a format decided that the divisions with the most teams will get two teams for the single-elimination state tournament. I think a meeting has to be had to determine what the parameters around the two teams would be. My gut on that is probably the team with the best record would be going and the winner of the division tournament would be the second team.”

The state tournaments will be designed around the number of teams competing in each age group.

“At the 19U and 17U levels we are going to have eight teams that will qualify (for the state tournament),” Zimmerman said. “How they qualify will be a little different in each division, but there will only be eight teams and it will be single-elimination. At the 15U level there are four teams that will qualify and at 14U there will only be two. At the 19U level there are only five divisions, basically Division 4 decided to go off on their own, so two teams are going to qualify from divisions 1, 2 and 3.”

The CT Elite Baseball Association will consist of five divisions at the 19U level. Division 4 programs Stratford, Trumbull, Fairfield, Westport, Ridgefield, Wilton and Greenwich have chosen not to join.

The decision stemmed from a difficulty to field enough teams and the inability of divisions to to merge with other divisions.

“There have been a lot of challenges in Fairfield County with COVID-19,” Division 4 representative Sars Ford said. “We lost Stamford Legion for the summer, they decided not to go forward and we had a couple of teams that just couldn’t round out their rosters because some parents were still a little bit afraid of it. We collectively met as a group, all of our GMs, over the past three weeks via Zoom and we made a decision that either we all stay or we all go. Since we make our own schedule for the district, it didn’t make sense to stay in the CT Elite Baseball Association.”

Despite the one-year separation at the 19U level, Division 4 intends to play games between division teams this year. A schedule and format are still being discussed. It also plans to return all of its teams in Zone Four for the 2021 American Legion season.

“The league itself is waiting to see what Lamont says about what happens with a kid who contracts COVID-19 and how we deal with it,” Flanagan said. “I don’t know if we as a group want to make that determination. We are not professionals in that area so I think we will defer to what the governor suggests.”

The CT Elite Baseball Association will meet again Wednesday to discuss issues related to COVID-19.

“If a business like an indoor batting facility had somebody come down with it, they would have to notify their local health department and follow all the guidelines,” Zimmerman said. “I am assuming that we are going to do something comparable to that, but that is really for the league committee to decide. I’m assuming we are also going to get some input from our own local health departments on what they are comfortable with.”

If all goes as planned, we can expect to see teams on the field as soon as the end of June.

“Opening day is a division decision but I know in Division 3 that games are starting the last day or two of June or July 1,” Zimmerman said. “Teams will roughly have 10 days to two weeks to get ready.”

If and when teams are given the green light to take the field, the CT Elite Baseball Association will be ready.

“The global picture here is that it is remarkable that we were able to put this whole thing together in a pretty short time period,” Flanagan said. “There are around 90 teams that will be playing, which within itself is remarkable.”

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