The Capital’s Garrett Lunt snags a throw over Oxford Hill’s Cam Slicer at second during a game Thursday in Gardiner. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

GARDINER — Jim Wallace had already started a junior American Legion team. But last year, some of his players, from schools stretching from the Capital Area to the midcoast, came up to him looking for another favor.

“Four of my junior Legion players came up to me and said ‘Coach, we want to play together next year.’ … I was like ‘Well, I don’t where you guys can all play together,'” Wallace said. “They said ‘We do. You can put together a team and we’ll play on that team.’

“Then in winter time, two or three of those players asked the same question. I said ‘Maybe they’re really serious about this, so I should get more serious about it too.'”

Wallace did, starting the Capitals team that is playing its first season in senior American Legion. Sponsored by Moody’s Diner and coached by former Gardiner standout Dennis Meehan, the Capitals play in Zone 2 and have players from Gardiner, Erskine, Waterville, Lincoln Academy and Medomak Valley.

The Capital’s Chandler Moore can’t reach Oxford Hill’s Hunter LaBossiere at second during a game Thursday in Gardiner. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Evidence of American Legion’s struggles in Maine are everywhere, from fewer teams to merging squads to declining participation numbers. But while established teams around the state fold, the Capitals are managing to buck the trend.

“It’s not impossible, but I think it’s really tough,” Wallace said. “But I think anywhere, doing anything, you’re always going to find people that want to do it.”

Wallace became motivated to start the team after realizing that his players, after aging out of junior Legion, would either have nowhere close to play or nowhere to go at all. The Gardiner senior Legion team from last year fizzled after low numbers forced a series of forfeits, and Wallace wanted to provide a new option.

“There are a ton of baseball players along the mid coast, and they just don’t have anywhere to play after Babe Ruth,” he said. “They just don’t know where to go. You’ve got to be willing to go wherever you can and knock on as many doors as possible to pull those kids together. That’s why we end up with five or six different high schools playing on one team.”

Even with a prospective roster, the work was just beginning. Wallace had to find a field that was somewhat centrally located for all the areas the team was serving. He had to do the paperwork to register the team with the Legion. And he had to come up with the money to make the whole thing feasible, an amount that reached thousands of dollars.

When Moody’s Diner out of Waldoboro agreed to sponsor the team, the process accelerated.

“Legion baseball is not cheap,” he said. “Any team that you run out there for a season, whether it’s junior or senior, is probably going to cost somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 for the year. And that cost includes uniforms, umpire costs, field rental costs, baseballs, insurance, league costs, etc. So that’s one big hurdle.”

Another was finding a coach. Wallace coaches the junior Legion team, so he needed someone else to handle the fledgling senior squad. He approached Gardiner varsity coach Charlie Lawrence, who declined but suggested JV coach Meehan, an outfielder at St. Joseph’s College until graduating in 2017, for the job.

“Dennis is a great guy,” Wallace said. “He’s really excited about baseball, and it’s hard to find … guys that are willing to commit their summer to coach players that want to play during the summer. It’s a volunteer thing, it’s all volunteer.”

Meehan said the chance to coach a higher ability level sold him on the position.

“I just wanted to coach kids that have a little more talent, that know baseball and are fundamentally sound, and just kind of tweak little things here and there and try to expand their game,” he said. “At the senior Legion level they know more about baseball and you’re not teaching the small things, like how to steal properly and all that. It’s more getting your hands back a little quicker, get them down a little sooner. Just timing things.”

Meehan has had his own challenges. The Capitals are 1-4 after losing to Bessey Motors Thursday night, and have been trying to figure out how to build on-field chemistry with a melting pot of players.

“We have a really talented team, we just haven’t played together,” Meehan said. “They just have never played together, so they’re still trying to get used to each other on the baseball field. But there’s a lot of talent there.”

The Capitals saw the benefits to that chemistry Thursday. Bessey Motors is made up entirely of Oxford Hills players, players that have been on the field together for years.

“You can definitely tell when a team like Oxford Hills comes up and plays against you,” Meehan said. “They have everything down pat. … They’re all tight and one uniform.”

The Capitals could get there in time. For now, just having a team is victory enough.

“There are a lot of kids that want to play baseball,” Wallace said. “You just have to look for them, and you have to get your name out there, and you have to be willing to knock on a lot of doors to find the players that are willing to play.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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