The Capital Area Babe Ruth 13-year-old All-Star team reached the state tournament last summer. And it won’t have to defend the district title it won in order to get there.

With numbers dipping even further, Maine Babe Ruth made the decision in the spring to cut the district round of the All-Star tournament season at the 13-year-old, 14-year-old and 13-to-15-year old levels. All Babe Ruth organizations that are able to field All-Star teams will be able to go directly to the state tournament.

“I guess, technically, everyone makes it now,” said Jayson Pare, who coaches what is now the 14-year-old Capital Area team. “I remember saying last year … there are only six teams in the whole state. We should just all be in a state tournament. I would have preferred it last year.”

There will be five teams in the 13-year-old bracket, four in the 14-year-old tournament and eight teams playing for the 13-15-year-old state title, with play running from July 8-14. Capital Area Babe Ruth — formerly Augusta Babe Ruth — president Mike Bechard said the decision to forgo districts is a troubling sign for the league and the sport.

“I like it, but all that tells us is baseball’s going downhill, the numbers are going down,” he said. “I coached a team a few years ago, and there were five districts and they all had five teams in it. Now we don’t even have five total.”

Dropping numbers and disappearing teams have been a trend throughout the state. Central Maine, which serves the Waterville area, didn’t have any Babe Ruth teams this year. Tri-County didn’t field a 13-year-old team last year. Apple Valley, which includes Winthrop, Readfield and Sabattus among the communities it serves, won’t field any All-Star teams this year after having a 13-year-old team last season.

“This is the first time in forever we don’t have any All-Star teams at all,” Apple Valley Babe Ruth president Dave Theriault said.

It’s likely not a temporary fix. Bechard said numbers would have to improve considerably in order for the district tournaments to make a comeback.

“Based on the numbers, I would say this is going to continue,” he said.

The flip side, though, is that the decision should improve the competition and quality of the state tournaments. Rather than playing in watered-down district tournaments — Augusta won a three-team district tournament to make it to states last summer — the teams will instead be able to make the state round as deep as possible.

“I like it. … I think if you’re only going to have six to eight teams in the whole state, I think it makes sense to bring everybody together and let everyone play in a double-elimination tournament,” Pare said. “Lewiston played a two-team tournament, which means they just played a best-of-three. Even though we were a three-team tournament, you’re still playing the same three teams over and over.”

Bechard agreed.

“That tournament will be better, because of that reason,” he said. “If you do two or three districts and the best team has a bad game and they end up losing, you don’t necessarily get all the best teams. Whereas this format, you’re getting all the best teams.”

Pare said the kids feel the same way, and that he even had players who weren’t thinking about playing decide to do so with fewer tournament commitments.

“I think the kids would like playing different towns and different kids,” Pare said, “and I think it gives them a better feel, being in a better tournament atmosphere where you have six or seven teams and you’re one of the top two or three, rather than winning a two-team tournament and going on to states.”

The caliber of play should be high — Greater Portland’s 14-year-old All-Star team made the Babe Ruth World Series as 13s a season ago.

“There’s bound to be some good games and good competition,” Bechard said. “The numbers are good. Eight (for the 13-15 tournament), that’s a good tournament.”

The Babe Ruth regular season ends Sunday, and the leagues will hold their double-elimination tournaments from Monday through the following Sunday before the focus turns to the All-Star competitions. The 14-year-old tournament will be held in South Portland, while the other sites will be determined.

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