SCARBOROUGH — A summer league designed to accommodate travel baseball and keep high school teammates together in the summer is continuing to expand.

And the old American Legion model is fast becoming an afterthought in southern Maine.

The third-year wooden bat CMG Mortgage Baseball League added five teams this summer, bringing the league to 14 teams within a 28-mile radius of Portland. Senior American Legion has 16 teams in the entire state, two less than last season and a third of its 2007 peak of 48 teams.

“I honestly believe, American Legion, not just in Maine but all over the country, they have not adapted,” said Portland High Coach Mike Rutherford, who co-founded the CMG league with Scarborough Coach Mike D’Andrea.

The CMG Mortgage league does not schedule games on the weekends. It’s an acknowledgement that many players are competing for travel teams at weekend showcase tournaments where they can be seen by college coaches. American Legion has doggedly stuck to a schedule that includes Saturday doubleheaders.

“If we were playing American Legion there would be some conflict and either way one of my coaches would be upset,” said Nick Thompson, who plays travel ball for the Maine Lightning and will be a senior at Scarborough High.

“This league works for me because it’s super flexible and it’s also really helpful as a team because we get to be on the bench with the younger guys,” Thompson said. “It works out really well having it be local, too. No one is trying to build a super team (from) a bunch of schools. Everyone is just trying to get better.”

Each CMG Mortgage team draws its players from a single high school program and all the players will return to high school in the fall. American Legion rosters include players who have graduated from high school, often from multiple school districts.

The league’s travel team-friendly schedule is built around doubleheaders on Tuesday and Thursday. Usually the older players play the first game of the doubleheader and the second game features the younger players.

“I like the opportunity to coach pretty much next year’s group,” said Mike Owens, the South Portland varsity coach. “The second game is mostly younger kids and I coach that game as well. So basically you get to coach your whole program for six, seven weeks.”

This year the league added five teams: SMAA schools Biddeford, Kennebunk and Thornton Academy, along with quality Class B programs from Freeport and Yarmouth.

Using wooden bats is another decision based, at least in part, on showcase standards. Metal bats are used during the high school season.

“We just thought it would be cool for the league,” D’Andrea said. “And the other reason is, with all the showcases – and whether people like it or not, travel ball is here, it’s not going anywhere – all the tournaments are wood bats for ages 15 and up.”

One potential knock on the wooden bat league is that more experienced players may not find the games competitive enough.

This year Windham’s players voted to leave the wooden bat league and return to Senior American Legion, said Coach Cody Dube.

Windham’s 18-player roster has 16 Windham players plus Cam Seymour, a graduate of Thornton Academy, and Aiden Sweeney, who will be a senior at Gray-New Gloucester.

“I think so far Legion has done exactly what we want,” Dube said. “(On Thursday) we faced Cheverus and Justin Ray pitched so it was good competition.”

Cheverus and Windham are the only Legion programs left in Cumberland County. South Berwick, Waterboro, Wells and Topsham are the other Legion towns in southern Maine.

Dube said playing games on Saturday has not been a problem for his team.

But the weekday schedule of the CMG League works well for players like Gerik Bialorucki and Caleb Viola, who will be seniors at South Portland. Neither is playing travel baseball.

Bialorucki, a varsity starter as a junior at second base and DH, is focused on playing different positions.

“The league doesn’t take up too much of my time but it gives me time to get on the field and play with my friends. It’s just a place to get better and have fun,” Bialorucki said.

Viola was a JV pitcher as a junior. The local summer league gives him a chance to show he deserves some innings on a staff that includes Division I committed starters Noah Lewis (Maine) and Hunter Owen (Vanderbilt).

“Tryouts are all summer long. It’s another one of the benefits of getting to play for our coach,” Viola said. “He gets to see people develop over the summer.”

For the youngest players, the league can be an introduction to their future high school coach and older teammates. Scarborough’s T.J. Liponis played last summer after finishing eighth grade. The summer games helped pave the way for Liponis to become the starting shortstop as a freshman for the Class A champs.

“It helped him in terms of getting to know the coach and some of the seniors and juniors on the team,” said Jim Liponis, T.J.’s father. “He enjoyed it and I think the coaches got to see what he could and couldn’t do.”


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