(Editor's note: MTN Sports will be following up with local baseball programs around the state regarding their plans to allow holding tryouts and practices. While the Montana-Alberta American Legion board has given approval for teams to begin, it's ultimately up to each program and their local jurisdiction to approve.)
BOZEMAN — Montana’s American Legion Baseball teams are one step closer to beginning their seasons, but multiple stipulations still exist before pitchers will be hurling to batters across the Treasure State.
Montana-Alberta American Legion general chairman Ron Edwards told MTN Sports he conducted a Zoom meeting over the weekend with coaches, team administrators and umpires, discussing the potential of beginning the season for the more than 62 Legion teams across the state.
“We stressed the fact that we’re going to work within the parameters given to us by Governor Bullock’s office, which is the reopening plan. That allows teams to start practicing this week, (Monday) was the official reopening day,” Edwards said. “The one thing we stressed in the meeting is that each team needs to go to their respective jurisdictional authorities, because we have a lot of teams that play on county land, we have teams that play inside of cities, so we need to make sure all those authorities understand what we’re doing by starting to look at practicing. That’s kind of the first step.”
Teams across Montana have already started moving forward, with the Great Falls Chargers beginning tryouts Tuesday, the Bozeman Bucks were scheduled for Wednesday, while the Helena Senators were hoping to begin theirs on Thursday. The Missoula Mavericks are looking to begin their tryouts on Monday, May 4.
Other teams like the Billings Royals and Billings Scarlets held their tryouts in the fall but had practice attempts overruled by the city of Billings for the time being.
“I think the governor’s intention in the reopening was just that, to give the local authorities the option to do things they see fit, depending on the issues they have in their respective counties or cities,” said Edwards. “We may not have all the teams that are able to start at the same time, some may have to wait a little longer depending on what those local jurisdictions say.”
Though select teams may be allowed to return to the ballpark, Edwards said each will implement its own social distancing measures to comply with Bullock’s Phase 1.
“We’ll break up practices so we’re working with 10 or fewer kids in areas, and some teams will just put 10 or less in their whole ballpark. We feel you can do that safely. There’s a big area to work with, but, again, you need to convey that to the respective jurisdictional authority. That’s kind of Step 1,” Edwards said.
“We talked about Step 2, which would be, ‘When can we start playing games?’” he continued. “We tied that to Phase 2 of the governor’s plan, where you can have up to 50 people but still maintain safe distancing. … The initial start day we talked about was May 15. We don’t know if Phase 2 will be done by then, but it was a consensus to push that back another week, so we left it at May 22. We’re hopeful we have Phase 2 implemented by then, but, again, we just don’t know. A lot of this will depend on how this first phase goes across the state.”
Edwards said he and other officials have paid close attention to the decisions of other Legion programs across the country, including the national American Legion’s decision to cancel postseason tournaments like regionals and the World Series. He says of the 16 state cancellations to date, the majority have occurred in the eastern part of the country where many games are played in high school stadiums.
“In Montana, we virtually have no high school baseball fields so we can play on venues that aren’t going to be shut down for the summer like a high school field would be,” he said.
Other states, like Wyoming, are similar to Montana in reopening plans, and hope to move forward with Legion seasons of their own. Due to out-of-state quarantine regulations, plus the closure of the U.S.-Canadian border, Edwards said out-of-state contests are currently not to be allowed.
Seven Canadian teams (Lethbridge Elks, Medicine Hat Monarchs, Vauxhall Spurs, Cranbrook Bandits, Fort Macleod Royals, Lethbridge Miners and Medicine Hat Knights) compete in the Montana-Alberta Class AA and Class A seasons.
“If you have an all-Montana state tournament, the way those state tournaments go down, (we may) have to set them up like (Montana’s high school football playoffs do) where you have to travel to your next opponent,” Edwards said, noting that this year’s hosts, Great Falls and Havre, would be awarded next summer’s state tournaments. “We might be able to do them in one venue depending on what this looks like come August. What will happen is we’ll end up pushing our end-of-year tournaments back into August because we have those dates available now since the national organization canceled their postseason tournaments. We’re hearing this is all being viewed favorably by our teams across the state.”
Edwards reiterated there are still multiple things that need to happen before the dinging of bats can be heard at parks across Montana, specifically Bullock’s transition to Phase 2 of Montana’s reopening. In the meantime, Montana’s Legion programs will focus on what’s in their control — limited practices with maintained social distancing — while remaining hopeful for an official opening day.
“I think I speak for all our programs when I say we’re hopeful we can continue to play into the summer. It’s a great brand of baseball and maybe one step toward becoming normal again, it gets us a little closer to that,” Edwards said. “We’re hopeful and we’ll be praying a lot all year.”