If senior American Legion baseball coaches think they have it tough when it comes to the day-to-day unpredictability of the sport, they should consider a stint coaching junior Legion baseball. At least most of the players in senior Legion have a driver’s license.

Due to the increasing demands on players’ time during the summer, coaches at both levels of Legion baseball frequently don’t know which players they will have available from one game to the next. But coaches in junior Legion, where the player age range is 13 to 17, aren’t just planning around their players’ schedules. Which means the coaches are usually writing their lineups out using pencils with good erasers.

“It is, by far, the biggest challenge — players depending on parents or siblings for transportation,” Skowhegan Post 16 junior Legion coach Rob Bolduc said. “You do often times kind of coach by the seat of your pants.”

Despite the challenges faced by youth baseball at all levels, junior Legion baseball remains unpredictable but strong in Maine, where it is approaching its 10-year anniversary. The state currently has 21 active teams split into two divisions — the nine-team North and 12-team South, which is one more than it had last year.

“Last year, we gained six new teams and lost five teams,” state junior Legion commissioner Rod Stevens said. “It’s a moving target depending on which teams are going to play.”

There are four teams in the Augusta-Waterville area this season, all playing in the North division. Skowhegan is the northern-most team in the state. Lawrence Post 14, Hometown Auto (Messalonskee) and the Augusta Capitals also compete in a division that extends as far south as Yarmouth and as far west as the Oxford Hills area.

With teams consisting mostly of next year’s high school freshmen and sophomores, the level of play is comparable to junior varsity baseball.

“It’s really a bridge between Babe Ruth and senior Legion,” Stevens said. “For a lot of teams in the Portland area, it’s like next year’s (high school) varsity team.”

Junior legion teams typically draw from the same region as their senior legion counterparts. Some teams are tethered to the local senior Legion teams, while others have virtually no relationship. Senior legion teams are allowed to use their junior team as a sort of JV team and have an unlimited number of players “swing” between the two levels once they submit a list of eligible players. In the past, teams were limited to three swing players, but even with the unlimited flexibility this year, most don’t have more than four or five players playing for both teams.

Teams play a 16-game regular season which this year runs from June 12 to July 16 — typically three or four games per week with an occasional doubleheader on weekends. Like senior Legion, the season culminates in a state tournament, which this year will be held at the new Colby College field July 23-26. The winner of that tournament represents Maine in the New England regional.

This is the Capitals’ rookie year in junior Legion. The team draws players from six different high schools — Cony, Gardiner, Hall-Dale, Erskine Academy, Mount View and Searsport. Aside from holding a joint preseason tryout with Augusta’s senior Legion team, it has no affiliation.

Getting a team made up of players from so many different towns to jell has been a concern for coach Jim Wallace, yet the Capitals are 5-2 and in third place in the North.

“We have a good, consistent core group of 12 or 13 kids. The biggest challenge for us is finding a mutually agreeable practice location,” said Wallace, whose team plays its home games at Augusta’s CARA complex and practices at Erskine Academy.

This is Skowhegan’s second season in junior Legion. The team draws players from Skowhegan, Madison and Carrabec high schools and splits its home games between Memorial Field and Colby. Bolduc is the general manager for both the Skowhegan junior and senior teams and has several players who swing between the two. The junior team is 4-3 and sits in the middle of the North standings.

Getting to the state tournament is a goal for Skowhegan, Bolduc said. But the emphasis is on getting players more time on the field, developing their baseball skills, and fostering their love of the game.

“We want to make these kids love the game, are passionate about the game and continue to play through their high school years and perhaps beyond,” Bolduc said.

The coaches agreed that the long-term survival and success of junior Legion, and the game of baseball as a whole, depends on finding kids who enjoy the game, are eager to improve and want to stay involved in the game for the long haul.

“The type of team I like to have is basically kids who love baseball. They’re friendly, they’re nice, and they’re into the game,” said Wallace, who has coached AAU travel teams prior to starting up the Capitals this season. “Drawing from six different high schools, I’d like to see six high school teams that are better next year. And I want the kids to play better. I want them to have fun and I want them to come back.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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