A drop in the number of American Legion baseball programs in central Maine is expected to result in a reduction in the number of zones statewide from five to four this summer.
Only five teams remained in what has been known as Zone 2, a region that stretches from Gardiner to the Skowhegan/Madison area.
Under a plan adopted by zone commissioners around the state, those five teams will be assigned to Zone 1 (northern Maine) or Zone 3 (western Maine).
Plans for the 2015 season will be confirmed during an April 12 meeting.
“Essentially Zone 2, as we’ve always known it, has been dissolved,” said Dave Paul, Zone 1 commissioner.
The Skowhegan-Madison and Messalonskee (Oakland area) teams that had competed in Zone 2 will shift to Zone 1, Paul said, while teams based in Augusta, Farmington and Gardiner will move to Zone 3.
That will give Zone 1 nine teams this year — defending state champion Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Messalonskee, Motor City of Bangor, Penquis of Dover-Foxcroft, Skowhegan-Madison, Trenton and Waldo.
Zone 1 officials created a 10-team, 18-game regular-season schedule with the hope a Waterville team would re-emerge, but that failed to materialize. And while the final schedule won’t become official until the April 12 state meeting, Paul said it’s likely the nine Zone 1 teams will each play a 16-game regular-season slate.
“I’d like to be able to play 24 games and play everybody three times, but I just don’t think we have the time,” said Paul of a regular season that typically ranges four to five weeks.
Paul said the state’s remaining zones are being renumbered, with Zone 1 the same, but the other zones renamed from north to south with western Maine becoming Zone 2, the Portland area becoming Zone 3 and York County becoming Zone 4.
Maine American Legion baseball expanded to five zones in 2008 with the addition of a separate York County zone. A 10-team state tournament was held that year, but in 2009, organizers opted for an eight-team state tourney with two qualifiers coming from the winners of play-in games involving four of the zone runners-up, with one runner-up receiving a bye each year on a rotating basis.
By reverting to a to four-zone format, all zone champions and runners-up will advance directly to the double-elimination state tournament, scheduled this year for July 29-Aug. 2 at the Wainwright Sports Complex in South Portland.
Trenton to add Jr. Legion team
Paul said a second Junior Legion baseball program is being established in Zone 1 this summer to join Bangor, which made its debut last in 2014 and won the state championship in the ages 13-17 division.
The Trenton American Legion program plans a Junior Legion team and is expected to draw most of its players from the Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, Ellsworth and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill high school programs.
That brings statewide Junior Legion baseball membership to about 20 teams, about half the number of Senior Legion programs in Maine.