Another domino fell in the local sports landscape on Monday. American Legion baseball in the commonwealth is canceled for the 2020 season due to the coronavirus, said Pennsylvania American Legion Department Commander Robert E. John.
“My decisions to cancel State Police Youth Camp, Keystone Boys State and Baseball were difficult but necessary in this COVID-19 environment,” John said in a statement. “All Department of Pennsylvania programs and activities are cancelled until further notice. I sympathize with all who are involved in our baseball program across the state, but I will not gamble with the health and/or safety of our players, coaches, umpires, staff, their families and fans of the sport.”
The announcement came six days after the American Legion World Series, set for August in Shelby, North Carolina, and eight national regional tournaments were canceled.
Unfortunately, there will be no baseball played in the Cambria County American Legion League this summer.
“At first what we were hearing was when they canceled the national and super regionals, that would allow us to back up our season and start later. I was really hoping that’s what the decision was going to end up being. Turns out, it didn’t,” was how St. Michael head coach Matt Gramling reacted to the news. “Now I’m really disappointed because I really look forward to Legion baseball. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.
“We got great kids, they all work well together. I just want to return to normal, and the fact we’re not going to have Legion baseball this year just really hurts.”
The CCALL, which was slated to begin on May 29, is comprised of 10 teams: Bedford, Claysburg, Ebensburg, Hollidaysburg, Lilly, Nanty Glo, No
thern Cambria, Richland, Somerset and St. Michael. All local, regional and state tournaments are wiped out. The announcement also states that any baseball action that uses the Legion name or logo is not authorized.
St. Michael was set to host the Region 7 Tournament this summer. According to Gramling, St. Michael will now host in 2021 with Bedford entertaining in 2022.
Considering the league held out hope for the season to begin, the news hit home for area teams.
“On Saturday, I spoke with Ron Springer, who heads the Cambria league, he was business as usual,” Nanty Glo manager Garry Wurm said. “It caught everybody sort of off guard. It’s disappointing that the high school season got canceled, for the seniors and all of the kids. We do have some players where baseball is their only sport. They sort of had some hope with the Legion season coming up. With that being canceled, I really don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Legion ball is an outlet for players ranging between ages 15 and 19 to develop their skills at a formidable time in their careers.
Competing in games is essential for youth to improve their baseball intelligence. Playing on a routine basis allows players to improve their timing, which is paramount on the diamond.
“Now it’s a lost year for them,” Gramling said. “I see a lot of improvement in our kids. We’re not going to have that. Baseball is a different sport than football, basketball, a lot of the other sports. Baseball is one that you pretty much have to play all the time because you lose those skills. It’s such a skilled sport. Losing a whole year is really going to hurt the development of players.”
Acknowledging it was just Nanty Glo’s second season back in the league after nearly a decade hiatus (2010), getting a chance to climb the league standings will have to wait another year.
“It’s concerning because we only have one year under our belt,” Wurm said. “The interest was there, I’m just hoping that this doesn’t give us some issues with players. I don’t think it will. But it is sort of a bump in the road. That’s for everybody, especially for new teams.”
As a former minor-league pitcher within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Wurm has never experienced a spring or summer without baseball.
“It’s tough because you hope they don’t lose their drive,” said Wurm, who also leads the Blacklick Valley baseball and boys’ basketball squads. “You practice for the games. There’s no games to practice for. There’s no baseball until 2021. It’s a difficult time. This never happened in my lifetime. There’s always been baseball.”
Players are now left to train on their own during this uncertain time. With no games to be played, athletes could run into their drills becoming monotonous.
“We told them if they could, do some tee work and soft toss. It always has to be done on their own,” Wurm said. “You can do tee work on your own, but you can only do so much tee work. Throwing, we can’t promote them throwing with anybody. There’s no getting together. It’s tough, it’s a new situation for all of us.”
Baseball allows coaches and players an outlet to convene socially to brighten their days with each other’s company. Wurm, who called himself a “caged tiger” during this stay-at-home order, is not the only one experiencing cabin fever.
“I know all of the coaches I’ve been in contact in the WestPAC, we’re all beside ourselves because we really look forward to it,” he said. “Just being around the players, the social aspect, we just enjoy it.”
Managers will be left to construct their rosters for 2021.
“We had everything in order so now I have to look for next year to see who we lose,” Wurm said. “For some of the kids, this would have been their last year of Legion and they’re going to lose that. We have to sort of regroup ourselves as coaches.”
— ASSOCIATED PRESS