Jay Thompson wasn’t alone, wondering what to do about baseball this summer after the American Legion baseball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When they closed it down, I was sitting around thinking about what we could do to play baseball,’’ said Thompson, the manager of the Park River Legion team. “Apparently a lot of people were thinking the same thing.
“I got a call from a guy out west, Bart Savelkoul from Mohall. He wanted to know what I thought about forming an independent league. We wanted to do something, and that’s exactly what we were looking for. It wasn’t 24 hours after the call that we got it going.’’
The statewide league, composed of programs that played at the Class B Legion classification in the past, quickly was organized. Thirty-eight teams so far have committed to play.
“Basically, there is just about every Class B Legion team in the state playing,’’ Thompson said. “There are just a few so far that are not participating.’’
The league had to put together some guidelines quickly. There were limitations based on what the government allowed due to the pandemic. Safety measures had to be planned. Starting dates had to be determined.
The league will use a mixture of high school and Legion rules. From high school rules, a designated hitter can be used for anybody, not just a pitcher, and courtesy runners can be used for pitchers and catchers. Teams will use Legion rules for player eligibility, which allows some 2019 high school graduates to still play.
With no Legion sponsorship, and no Legion uniforms or equipment available, there also was the question of who pays.
“For a lot of teams, a big deal was where the funding was coming from,’’ Thompson said. “I know it was tough for some teams.’’
Thompson said some teams are being allowed to use high school equipment. Some programs are being funded by local baseball booster clubs or baseball boards that had funded Legion programs.
Roster limits haven’t been set. Some programs, such as Langdon, don’t have high participation. Langdon has eight Legion-age players and will fill out the roster with five Babe Ruth-age (15-and-under) players.
“It’s tough to see that (number) in a town our size,’’ Langdon coach Tanner Groth said. “But I know our kids will compete. We had high hopes this spring. Not getting to play the high school season fueled the fire more for this.’’
All teams go into the season with a clean slate. There is no defending state champion -- a claim that would have gone to a Thompson team that won the last three Class B state Legion titles.
“Even though it’s not Legion baseball, we’re going at it the same way,’’ Thompson coach Ryne Dolleslager said. “We want it to be something special.’’
Abiding by the health and safety guidelines, which still are being finalized, could be a headache, Dolleslager said.
“But it’s worth it for baseball,’’ Dolleslager said. “It was such a slap in the face when they announced no Legion ball this summer. We told the kids to stay positive, that you never know if something might happen. When they heard this was a possibility, they were so pumped. They didn’t want to miss out on baseball.
“I think that was probably the reaction across the state.’’
Area teams that have committed to play in the independent league include: Cando, Grafton, Hatton, Hillsboro, Langdon, Larimore, Mayville, Minto, Nelson County, Park River, Rolla and Thompson.