The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic wiped out spring sports, and for all intents and purposes, it has also canceled all American Legion baseball this summer, including Chanute’s teams.
Second-year American Legion Post 170 AAA head coach Mike Cooper was emailed last week by Kansas state director Steve Queen in the state office confirming that the league would cease operations because of the pandemic. The national office sent the cancellation email to all 50 states as well.
“There is no sanctioned American Legion baseball this summer,” Cooper said. “Meaning that if we were to try to play, we can’t use American Legion baseball rules and we’re not sure what we would go under. If we go under KSHSAA, there’s an insurance cost increase that’s quite a bit more than what we pay for Legion. It’s just really hamstringing us, honestly. That’s kind of the way the cookie crumbles. It sucks.
“I feel horrible for the seniors. ... I’m hoping to God those guys come back next year. I know they feel cheated. They didn’t know last year that high school ball was going to be the last time they put on a baseball uniform. I can only imagine. If I was in my senior year in high school and something like this would happen, I would have lost my senior year in baseball in Legion. That would have devastated me.”
The timing of the cancellation is causing additional issues. Cooper said if he was notified about this a month ago, he and his coaching staff would have worked to organize some sort of funding to go in a different direction other than Legion ball. Cooper could have ordered the equipment then, but even some items wouldn’t be available until July.
The ordering of hats was already complete, but even that needed to be canceled because all teams are strictly prohibited from using Legion funds for non-sanctioned baseball. If the season were a go, Chanute Post 170 would have participated in multiple games and three tournaments that cost $1,500 and Legion transportation would have been used.
But none of this will happen because of the league’s orders.
“I talked to a few parents and everybody is upset, but this is the last thing I wanted to have happen,” Cooper continued. “But when your hands are tied, your hands are tied.”
Still, Cooper did visit the idea of coordinating some independent doubleheaders for practice games just to get the kids on the field. That notion was shut down immediately because of the restriction to travel out of town to play baseball.
This effort of thinking outside the box comes on the heels of some Legion programs in the state that will still proceed to play baseball, according to Cooper. He said it doesn’t make much sense to play the game independently.
“They’re kind of running a pretty big risk there,” Cooper said. “It’s just one of those things where Legion said no. So Legion says no, you kind of go with what Legion said. It’s not worth the risk of possibly losing your Legion charter because you chose to play Legion ball after the national office said no sanctioned Legion ball. That’s just something we are not even remotely willing to risk. As bad as we want to play, it’s just something we are not willing to risk. This coronavirus has definitely screwed us.”
The following is the official memo from the American Legion Department of Kansas.
“A memo issued from the Americanism Commission on 8 May, 2020 has effectively canceled the 2020 baseball season for the American Legion,” the organization wrote. “Teams that have already registered will be fully refunded their fees, including national’s administrative fees. Insurance purchased through the registration process is not active. K&K Insurance Group is automatically refunding all policies purchased by registering teams. The registration portal has been shut down by National. Consequently, the Department Baseball committee has recommended that the 2020 Baseball season be canceled for the Department of Kansas. Effective immediately, Kansas American Legion Baseball State and zone tournaments and regular season play are cancelled.
“This does not mean that the American Legion is prohibiting registered teams from playing. If any Kansas teams do choose to play in 2020, that team’s sponsor will be responsible for all play including rules, scheduling and insurance.”
While independent sponsors could take responsibility for teams if the choice is to play at all costs, Cooper said it’s best to follow the rules, especially given the dire state of the world.
“If teams do decide to play non-sanctioned ball, one – you run into you having a lot of kids,” Cooper commented. “You got a few that play for the love of the game. But what do they have to play for? There’s no zone tournament. There’s no state tournament... I’ve had a few kids come in and say that they were ready and some other kids said they don’t know. Well you can’t run a field with eight guys. You can’t even run a team with nine guys, not in my opinion, not safely. This just sucks. We just came to a conclusion that this just is what it is. Legion orders were handed down and we’re going to abide by them.”
If Legion changes their orders within the next three weeks, though, Cooper will round up his players and prepare them as best as possible with the time given. With KSHSAA canceling state playoffs for basketball and axing the entire season for spring sports, as well as the NJCAA terminating spring junior college sports, Cooper said he has a hunch that some players will not be physically, mentally and emotionally ready to just jump back in and play the first game of the season. But if the opportunity presents itself, regular training will take place as much as possible.
A year ago in July, the 19 and younger group lost to Newton and to Linn County Post 248 18U in the second round of the Kansas American Legion AAA Zone 2 Baseball Tournament at Mike Falletti Field in Frontenac. Chanute culminated the season with a 13-12 record.
If there would have been a season this year, players set to return from last year’s team were Peyton Beck, Kam Koester, Cade Addis and Tyson Lucas, among other notables.
Addis, a current Allen Community College player who last year hit .293 with 22 hits and 23 RBI in 75 at-bats for American Legion, said he is distraught about not having the season.
“It was very disappointing hearing the news, especially after the college season was cut short,” Addis said. “I was hoping to get some live at-bats and live ground balls in before next season.”