Baseball: No American Legion this summmer, but other options in the works
By Mike London
SALISBURY — American Legion baseball debuted at historic Newman Park in 1936.
Except for a two-year hiatus (1942-43) during World War II, it’s become a summer ritual in Salisbury.
Legion ball returned in 1944 for a 30-game season, made a quantum leap in popularity with the 1955 team’s run to the World Series, and managed to stay relevant through the years, despite changing attitudes and changing times and competition from other baseball organizations.
But a proud streak of 76 consecutive local Legion seasons has ended. COVID-19 concerns have wiped out Legion programs for this summer. That includes not only junior and senior American Legion baseball, but also the fast-growing Lady Legion softball program. Anything connected with American Legion is off the table. No summer ball will be sanctioned by American Legion.
That doesn’t rule out some form of Legion-style baseball being played this summer — played with Legion-style rules and played by Legion-age youngsters for teams made up of players from traditional Legion boundaries. There’s still a high level of interest from coaches and administrators in making that happen.
High Point Post 87 has taken a leadership role in an effort to create an alternate summer league. Post 87 announced Tuesday that its program will continue this summer “when state and local guidelines are eased.” Post 87’s proposed league — the N.C. 3 American Baseball League — would include “historical Area III teams.”
Obviously, Rowan County would be a key component of such of a league.
“We’d be willing to field a team when we’re allowed to field a team,” Rowan team manager Mark Cauble said. “It wouldn’t be Legion, but we’d try to make it as close to Legion as we can get it. We’ll do what we can to provide a place to play for those young men who already have lost high school and college seasons.”
There’s little doubt there will be players who are itching to compete later this summer.
Mocksville announced via social media on Tuesday that a conference call was held with eight other Area III members. Plans are being formulated. Those programs are committed to playing this summer whenever it is safe to do so.
American Legion had canceled things at the national level more than a week ago, erasing the regional tournaments and the popular World Series in Shelby from the calendar.
Hope remained in the past week for local Legion seasons to take place, a little later than normal, culminating with a state championship tournament, perhaps even a North Carolina vs. South Carolina, bi-state championship. Those hopes were crushed on Monday when the state’s executive committee opted to follow the guidance of their leaders at the national level.
″The Department Executive Committee met and voted on the spring and summer youth programs for the North Carolina American Legion,” said Cauble, who is the American Legion Baseball director for North Carolina. “All youth programs for the 2020 spring and summer have been canceled.”
Cauble understands the safety concerns and other potential issues, but like a lot of people, he hated seeing American Legion shutting every door and window in mid-April. Legion seasons normally get going in late May, as the high school seasons conclude.
North Carolina is under a stay-at-home order through April 29. Schools are closed through May 15.
“The four area commissioners recommended to the Department Executive Committee that any decision be delayed until Gov. Roy Cooper’s office provided new guidance,” Cauble said.
That recommendation was denied by unanimous vote.
So there won’t be Legion baseball in Davidson County for the first time since 1945. There won’t be Legion baseball in Belmont for the first time since 1956. There won’t be Legion baseball anywhere in the state. That’s a tough pill for sports fans to swallow.
“They wanted to make a decision here and now,” Cauble said. “But things may look a lot different on May 15. They make look different two weeks from now.”
A number of states, including New York, hardest hit by COVID-19, are waiting to make a decision on Legion ball this summer.
Little League International, which has more than 6,500 programs in more than 80 countries, has asked all local leagues to suspend operations until May 11, but hasn’t yet canceled the season.