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‘Taking baseball away ... is tough’: American Legion season canceled due to coronavirus

Mt. Airy's Matt Gelhard dives towards home plate, avoiding Sykesville catcher James Andrews, scoring a run in the seventh inning of an American Legion baseball game at Loats Field in Frederick on Friday, June 28.
Mt. Airy's Matt Gelhard dives towards home plate, avoiding Sykesville catcher James Andrews, scoring a run in the seventh inning of an American Legion baseball game at Loats Field in Frederick on Friday, June 28.(Brian Krista / Carroll County Times)

As sports cancellations spread across the nation, a staple in Maryland summer baseball will have to take this summer off.

Due to concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic and liability issues, the American Legion summer baseball season in Maryland has been canceled.

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On April 7, Mike Riston, chairman of the Department of Maryland American Legion Baseball Committee, announced the cancellation of the Department of Maryland 2020 Senior and Junior ALB tournaments.

The decision came after Americanism Commission and National Commander James W. Bill Oxford announced in late March the cancellation of the American Legion World Series, as well as the eight regional tournaments.

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“As hard as it was to make these decisions, the safety of all players, managers coaches, umpires, parents and fans must always come first,” said Bill Cauley, Department of Maryland American Legion Baseball Committee secretary, in an email to Maryland American Legion coaches in early April.

A total of 25 legion teams had already registered in Maryland for the 2020 summer season prior to the cancellation of the season — 13 junior teams and 12 senior teams. The leagues and seasons can still continue, but there will be no state tournament and the teams can’t be associated with American Legion baseball if they play this summer.

“We followed their lead,” Cauley said. “They said they would not sanction any legion ball this year and any teams that want to play an independent schedule are free to do that, but they can’t use the American Legion name. It’s a liability thing.”

There are at least nine legion squads in the Baltimore region — Mount Airy Post 191, Sykesville Post 223, Laurel Post 60, Severna Park Post 175, Pasadena Post 277, Glen Burnie Post 40, Annapolis Post 7, Severn Post 276, and Dundalk Post 38. While several legion coaches differed in some opinions, they all agreed the safety of the players and their families is what matters most.

“Once I found out that the region tournaments and the World Series were canceled, I knew the states wouldn’t be far behind,” said George Richardson III, who was preparing for his first season as Sykesville Post 223′s head coach. “They’re erring on the side of caution, and that’s the best way to do it. If we started doing stuff and the kids got sick, that doesn’t look good on anybody.”

For many senior baseball players, the legion season was their last hope to play competitive baseball. Their high school seasons have been postponed due to the coronavirus, and some of them won’t be playing in college.

“Taking baseball away from baseball people is tough,” said Richardson III, who coached at South Carroll High School from 1998-2011. “It’s a crazy thing we’re dealing with. No one expected it to be like this.”

One question raised by the coaches was regarding why the decision was made in early April — two months before the start of the American Legion season and nearly four months before the American Legion World Series.

One of the reasons, many opined, was monetary, as coaches are required to pay registration and insurance fees to participate as an American Legion team. The longer it took to make a decision, the more teams would have paid those fees with the season in question.

Some teams had paid those fees prior to the cancellation, and Cauley said there hasn’t been a decision by the national headquarters yet regarding those payments.

Overall, the season was canceled due to a combination of safety concerns for the players, coaches and parents as well a potential liability concern for ALB.

“They were afraid something would happen and that they’d get sued, and that’s why they canceled the season,” said George Richardson Sr., who has been coaching legion baseball in Carroll County since 1981 and is now an assistant for Sykesville.

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Sykesville's Cory Moran jumps up to corral a high throw as Mt. Airy's Garrett Schwartzbeck (7) safely steals third base during an American Legion baseball game at Loats Field in Frederick on Friday, June 28.
Sykesville's Cory Moran jumps up to corral a high throw as Mt. Airy's Garrett Schwartzbeck (7) safely steals third base during an American Legion baseball game at Loats Field in Frederick on Friday, June 28.(Brian Krista / Carroll County Times)

Mount Airy draws from Linganore, South Carroll, Oakdale, and Urbana high schools, and coach Ryan Staley said he did his best to communicate with his senior team players via email after the decision was made to cancel. Staley said he understands the move based on safety of everyone involved, but he wants to pursue other avenues for summer baseball in 2020.

“It’s going to be dependent on timing and things like that. I haven’t completely put the hammer down on the season just yet,” Staley said. “For some of the kids, this is their last summer playing baseball ever. If there’s any way that I can try to salvage that for them, or at least do something small, I would love for them to just have the opportunity to play one more game.”

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