American Legion baseball is in a jam, and a nonprofit group formed nearly a quarter-century ago to push for the development of baseball fields in Alaska is poised to earn a big save.
The American Legion national organization canceled the entire season on Sunday because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Alaska teams have a plan that might allow teenagers to play ball this summer.
The Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska — a nonprofit group formed in 1996 — is coming to the rescue with an insurance policy and a set of rules that would allow the season go forward, Alliance co-leader Steve Nerland said Wednesday.
Nerland said practices could begin within in the next few weeks, “maybe sooner” if the Alliance is able to obtain field permits from the Municipality of Anchorage, which isn’t issuing them right now.
Games could begin in the first part of June, following at least two weeks of practice, he said.
Alaska’s 13 teams on the road system would play about 25 regular-season games. The four teams off the road system would play fewer but will still have a way to qualify for the end-of-season tournament, Nerland said.
The league would be called Alliance baseball instead of American Legion baseball, players would wear the same uniforms as usual and the same coaches would be involved.
It all hinges on one thing: The relaxation of the state health mandate that limits a gathering to 50 people.
“We’re not going to be like the Korean baseball league and play in front of nobody,” Nerland said.
It wouldn’t take much to hit the limit of 50 for a game — two teams with 16 players and two or three coaches apiece, plus umpires, comes close to that limit.
“So that means no spectators,” Nerland said. “We’re not going down that road.”
Limits on crowd sizes are expected to loosen when Alaska enters Phase III of its plan to reopen following the closure of many businesses because of the pandemic. Phase II began last week statewide and Monday in Anchorage, and there’s no set date for when Phase III might begin.
“We’re hoping under Phase III we’ll be able to play games and have what you could call a normal season and an end-of-season tournament," Nerland said. “Everything I’m hearing is (Phase III) is going to happen the first of July but we think it’s going to happen earlier.”
Nerland said that in creating a mitigation plan, the Alliance will propose counting members of the same family as a single person as long as everyone lives together. “We’re not going to say your mom can go but your dad can’t,” he said.
The American Legion national organization runs baseball programs in all 50 states. The organization canceled its national and regional tournaments a month ago and pulled the plug on the entire season Sunday.
Later this week, the Alaska Baseball League — a summer league for college players — is expected to decide whether to go forward with its season. It faces the same challenges the Alliance does, plus one more: Currently, anyone entering Alaska must self-isolate for 14 days.
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