Connecticut American Legion teams announced last month that they would be forming their own summer league, the CT Elite Baseball Association, giving kids around the state hope to enjoy a summer in the sun after all.
American Legion canceled its national championships shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began resulting in nationwide shutdowns and cancellations of nearly all sports, some through the summer, like the New England Collegiate Baseball League. After American Legion shut down all sponsorship across the country, it seemed like local teenagers would miss baseball through the summer, in addition to the lost high school season, which was canceled last month. But with the formation of the CT Elite Baseball Association, Bristol is beginning to prepare for a unique season that will bring baseball back to the city.
“I think a lot of people wanted to give the kids something,” said Jerry LaPenta, Bristol legion head coach and head coach of the soon-to-be formed 19U team with the CT Elite Baseball Association. “Because the young kids got screwed out of everything.”
The kids won’t be stripped of a full summer without baseball, as Bristol has announced the formation of two teams, one in the 19U and 17U divisions of the new league, which formed quickly once interest across the state became known.
“We took a vote within the state, and last year we had about 69 legion teams in Connecticut, and roughly 40 wanted to do this,” LaPenta said. “Once we had that, guys at the state level formed a committee and had some legal guys write up the documents.”
Bristol teams will hold their tryouts soon, with LaPenta having his eyes set on a tentative date for June 20, meaning kids could be taking the field to prepare for a summer season as early as this coming weekend.
“There's just some stuff that has to be worked out with permits with the city,” LaPenta said. “But once we get the definitive date, we'll do that. The kids just have to fill out a form, and there's also a COVID waiver on there that they have to fill out before they take the field.”
With the mindset of safety at the forefront while the state slowly reopens, the league will take certain safety precautions, like enforcing that each player will have to have their own bat. But in terms of baseball, the rules will be the same as legion, with pitch count restrictions being the same as normal.
The schedule won’t be normal, but it will certainly be more than what was originally expecting when cancellations were happening by the day. Bristol hopes its zone can begin play on July 1, and with seven teams in the zone, each team is expected to play each other three times to form a schedule of roughly 21 games, and a shortened playoff would bring the season to a close around Aug 9.
“Our zone chairman is working on a schedule this week, and should have it done by the end of the weekend,” LaPenta said.
LaPenta is encouraged by the interest in playing this season, and expects a strong turnout when tryouts begin.
“The kids that I've reached out to so far, they're biting at the bit to get out there,” LaPenta said. “We had kids eligible from last year's team that have responded, and at my level I've had about 12 or 13 kids that have said they want to play. I was worried we might have too many come out, but some kids went out to other travel teams when they saw legion was canceled, so our numbers should be pretty good. But I want everyone who wants to play to have a chance to do it, because so much has been taken away.”
LaPenta hopes for things to return to normal under the American Legion umbrella next season, but for now, he’s just looking forward to a baseball with summer after initial fear that it wouldn’t be possible.
“I'm really excited,” LaPenta said. “Baseball's been in my life a long time...I'm just excited to be back on the field. But I really feel for the kids, especially the high school seniors that didn't get their spring season. But to give them something is something to feel good about.”
All interested families should contact LaPenta at 860-995-6296 or Bill Mason at 203-885-3842.