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Summer baseball: Area teams consider alternate format to American Legion

UPDATED: Thu., May 7, 2020

Even though participation sports at the high school level and elsewhere are still shut down due to the pandemic, some area baseball leagues and coaches are trying to figure out a way to play this summer as states start implementing plans to reopen.

In Idaho, the American Legion baseball board announced on Wednesday a schedule to begin play.

The return to baseball in Idaho coincides with Gov. Brad Little’s four-phase plan to reopen the state. According to the board’s announcement, small group practices of fewer than 10 participants could begin May 17, coinciding with “Phase 2” of the governor’s plan.

Practices with 10-50 people can start May 30 (Phase 3), while games can begin June 13 (Phase 4).

But there are still plenty of hurdles to get over before an umpire yells, “Play ball!” including social distancing protocols, travel logisticsand securing fields, as most public school fields will remain off-limits while the school district is closed.

American Legion Baseball canceled its regional and national tournaments for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so an Idaho state title would be the highest honor a Legion team could achieve this year.

In Washington, the state’s Legion board canceled the season on April 9, so there won’t be any official play. But the Spokane board, made up of coaches and organizers, is considering an unofficial league once parameters for reopening are met.

Eastern Washington is home to more than 50 American Legion teams over three divisions. According to Mt. Spokane High School and American Legion coach Alex Schuerman, independent baseball is more prevalent on the West Side of the state.

“Legion is really big in the Spokane area, so we’re taking a big hit right now with it getting canceled,” Schuerman said. “In other areas like Seattle – travel, independent, stuff like that – they have a little more freedom because they’re not under a national umbrella.”

Schuerman and the rest of the Spokane Legion board discussed organizing a league modeled off those travel and independent teams.

“We’re committed to try to get a 20-game season starting in July,” Schuerman said.

The easy part was getting area teams interested and committed.

“Basically, everybody that we’ve talked to that has a Legion team normally would be willing to do something like this,” Schuerman said.

Logistics will prove challenging.

Once all the participants are identified and committed, the group will have to procure insurance, set up safety and travel procedures and develop a schedule that will minimize travel.

“Some people might venture to Moses Lake or something,” Schuerman said. “I doubt people can do any overnight stays in Montana and Yakima and Tri-Cities.”

He said teams will err on the side of caution on overnight trips.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s very many coaches that want to be liable for that,” Schuerman said. “Even if you have a personal opinion that you don’t think it’s necessary to be in that strict of an environment, we also don’t want to put families in a bad spot. We just need to be diligent with our duties as leaders.”

Players will need a couple of weeks of practice to get back up to speed.

Of course, under Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased plan to reopen Washington, that can’t happen right away.

“We need to get to at least Phase 3 before summer baseball could start, because you can’t have team sport athletics until we’re in Phase 3,” Schuerman said. “So as a legion board we’re trying to commit Spokane schools to working together to try to get everybody in the Spokane area around 15-20 games starting in July, with the anticipation that by July we’d be able to play local games.”

The biggest challenge will likely be procuring fields. With schools closed, fields are off limits at least until June 18, when school would have let out for summer.

“We don’t know how we’re going to have our school fields available,” Schuerman said. “We certainly won’t have them available prior to the end of school, so we’re kind of kind of handcuffed there.”

Schuerman discredited the idea that Washington players might want to play under the American Legion umbrella in Idaho. He said Legion rules on how teams can be constructed would likely keep that from happening.

But since the makeshift Eastern Washington summer ball idea wouldn’t be sanctioned by American Legion, Schuerman suggested if smaller areas couldn’t get enough players to field a team this summer, larger teams would have the flexibility to accommodate them.

But all of this depends on the governor’s plan and meeting criteria to move from one phase to the next.

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