American Legion baseball isn’t as popular as it was 25 years ago, but reports of its demise are premature.

“We’re in a little bit of trouble,” state director Chuck Berube said. “AAU is starting to hurt us. The kids today are a little different when some of us were playing.”

There’s some good news, too. While the American Legion senior division (ages 14-19) is holding steady around the state at 45 teams, the junior division (ages 13-17) is growing. There are currently 19 junior teams — they begin a state playoff next week — with plans of adding five more teams next summer, including teams in Augusta and possibly Skowhegan.

Junior teams can supply affiliated senior teams with up to three players during the season or playoffs, which will help some senior teams that are struggling with numbers.

“A good example is Gardiner and Monmouth,” Berube said. “We had to combine those teams (this year) because both teams were having trouble filling their rosters.”

And although teams sponsored by American Legion posts have declined in recent years, Berube noted that six of the eight teams in this year’s tournament are sponsored by Legion posts.

“We’re doing pretty good,” Berube said. “But we need to sell ourselves, like anything else. We need to talk to the high school coaches so they promote Legion baseball.”

• • •

Next year, Zone 4 is scheduled to host the state tournament. It will likely be held at Wainwright Athletic Complex in South Portland. Zone 3 in the Lewiston/Auburn area was scheduled to host the tournament this year but there weren’t enough volunteers to put it on.

Augusta, which has hosted several state tournaments asked to host and site director Al Cloutier assembled a group of 40 volunteers, many from the Augusta Babe Ruth League. Tournament sites must have lights or at least two fields which is the case in both Augusta and South Portland.

Zone 1 in the Bangor area has had a problem finding fields. Mansfield Stadium in Bangor is tied up with the Senior League World Series. Officials are looking into Husson University, but would have to work around several summer camps going on there. Augusta at one time had put in a bid to become a permanent site, but Legion officials would like to see the tournament move around.

“Even before I was on the committee, they decided to move it around to all the zones so a lot of people could see Legion baseball and be exposed to it,” Berube said.

• • •

For the first time in recent memory, none of the three Portland legion teams — Andrews Post, Nova Seafood and Cheverus — are in the tournament. All three were eliminated in the Zone 4 tournament. In the past 10 years, Nova has won five state titles as well as a national championship in 2004, while Andrews Post has won two. Cheverus won this spring’s Class A high school championship. Morrill Post of South Portland is the Zone 4 representative this year.

• • •

Pitching is at a premium for nearly every team in the tournament, but Augusta remains in good shape despite an injury to Jake Beland and the absence of Zac Lachance. Beland will start today’s game against Brewer, according to manager Ray Vallee, and see how far he can go. He hasn’t pitched for two weeks because of an impingment in his neck area.

“He basically has a dead arm,” Vallee said. “They’re not really sure why but there’s no pain.”

Win or lose, Augusta is already guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s championship game and will have ace Ryan Minoty ready for that one. Tournament rules allow a pitcher to throw 12 innings in any 72-hour period. Minoty threw six innings Wednesday and four Friday. That leaves him eligible to pitch eight innings Sunday.

Ryan Edwards and Colin McKee are also eligible to pitch today for Augusta. Lachance would have been a valuable addition to the staff but this week is attending the Seeds of Peace Camp in Otisfield.

• • •

With rain expected overnight, the new drainage system installed last fall at Morton Field will be put to the test.

Cloutier and his crew will be out early in the morning — he showed up at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday after rain on Tuesday night — to get Morton or adjacent McGuire field in shape. Both games scheduled today, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., are at Morton Field.

“We’ll get both fields ready and see which one holds the rain better tonight,” Cloutier said.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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