There will be no American Legion baseball in Rhode Island this summer, but there could be baseball with an American Legion flavor.
The nationwide summer circuit for high school-aged players — which is approaching its 100th year — will take the 2020 season off, at least in official terms. The American Legion National Organization canceled its World Series and regional tournaments in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, then announced on May 8 that it would shut down all sponsorship and involvement for the 2020 season.
States or teams that wish to play will not be prohibited from doing so, but any seasons they put together would not be under the purview of American Legion baseball, which includes rules, guidelines, schedules and, most importantly, insurance.
In light of the news, the board of directors for Rhode Island American Legion baseball is considering its options, with an independent league emerging as a possibility, said Post 39 manager Pete Podedworny. Any action would be dependent on the easing of restrictions from state government on sizes of gatherings and from local municipalities on field availability. Post 39 draws from Westerly, Charleston, Richmond and Hopkinton.
“From speaking with the board, I think the hope is to salvage some sort of season and play an independent league that is not part of American Legion,” Podedworny said. “That’s where it stands right now. We could conceivably hold off until the middle of July. We could still have a month or a month and a half, which would be great.”
Legion baseball has kept a solid foothold in the Ocean State despite the impact of travel ball and showcase teams, which have pulled top talent away from a league that was once the gold standard for summer baseball. Amid shrinking numbers, Rhode Island’s league has adapted in recent years, expanding geographical footprints for teams to raise the overall level of play and switching to wood bats to add a degree of difficulty. Eleven teams played in the state’s senior division last summer, with 15 more in the junior division. In 2016, Rhode Island champ Upper Deck Post 14 of Cumberland advanced to the World Series.
Post 39, based in South Kingstown, historically drew players from South Kingstown and Narragansett. When the league cut teams a few years ago and, in turn, drew larger boundaries for each squad, Post 39 added Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton and Westerly to its player pool. Top players from each town filled the roster last season, with a host of college-bound standouts, including South Kingstown’s Broc French (Trinity), Blaine Lidsky (Stonehill) and Cole Podedworny (Rhode Island College), Chariho’s Sean Sposato (URI) and Westerly’s James Pedersen (CCRI).
Players who are slated to suit up this season would likely be champing at the bit if allowed to play.
“We all believe this could be a premium for the high school players,” Podedworny said. “Otherwise, they’re looking at going into September having not played.”
The Rhode Island board has been aiming to make something work since the cancellation of the World Series and regionals, hoping at that point to have a delayed season. That plan has a few more wrinkles to iron out — particularly the insurance part of the equation — but staging some sort of season remains a goal.
Around the country, some states are opting to cancel their seasons, while others are looking at alternatives. Connecticut announced that is suspending its season but a Twitter post on Saturday indicated that options are still being explored. Massachusetts canceled its season following the May 8 announcement by the national organization.
“Once that ruling came down, the board figured out some possibilities,” Podedworny said. “Rhode Island is kind of unique in that it’s such a small state, you could still hold a league as long as you had all the teams willing to play.”
Podedworny said the Post 39 coaching staff would be ready to go. Players and their families will be the ultimate arbiters of what happens.
“For us, it will come down to how the parents and families feel,” Podedworny said. “Will we still have enough families that are willing to go through with it? That will probably be the biggest challenge for every team. The coaches will coach, and I’m sure the players will want to play. It’s just, will the families feel comfortable?”
If all the pieces come together, baseball would be a welcome sight.
“Every year, you look forward to baseball. I think everybody — fans, parents, players, coaches — they’re finding out what it’s like not having it and it’s not fun” Podedworny said. “And that’s for all the spring sports. I can imagine these kids, having missed out on the high school season, just being really excited about getting out there.”