By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — Summer is back and so is baseball in the borough.
In May, the National American Legion shut down all sponsorships and involvement in baseball for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision left Legion teams with no insurance.
Legion teams could still play, if they set up a league independent from American Legion. And that’s what they did.
Legion teams throughout the state have formed a one-year alliance as the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association.
A group of 12 coaches and administrators with well over 300 years of combined experience in American Legion baseball banded together to form the new league, according to Craig Zimmerman, league director. The league secured insurance carriers for all the teams with the help of North Haven General Manager Charlie Flanagan.
“A lot of work went into bringing this all together,” Naugatuck General Manager Paul D’Agnone said. “The insurance was the final hurdle, and now we are ready to get the kids back out on the field and let the games begin.”
“Most of the teams are all Legion teams, and we are all familiar with each other,” he added. “I know not all of the teams will be represented, but a good majority of our Zone is playing.”
The Connecticut Elite Baseball Association will consist of teams from all the original eight Legion Zones in divisions. Naugatuck’s U-19 team will play in Division 5, which also includes Oakville, Bethel, Danbury and Winsted.
“We will play the teams within our division,” Naugatuck head coach Mark Nofri said. “We have a 16-game schedule with a single elimination tournament following the regular season and it will finish up around Aug. 9. It certainly has been a long time coming, and I know the kids are excited to get back on the field.”
The Naugatuck team will consist of players from Naugatuck, Prospect, Beacon Falls and Seymour. There were 15 players on the Naugatuck U-19 roster with the remaining players assigned to the U-17 team coached by Jim Duda.
The Naugatuck U-17 team will play in Division 2, which includes Branford, Hamden, Madison, North Haven, Orange, Shelton and Wallingford.
“Hopefully the kids have been working out on their own and are in shape to start the season,” Duda said. “We are going to keep an eye on the pitchers to make sure their arms are not going to be overworked.”
There will be several rule changes implemented as precautions. The new rules include umpires calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound, players can’t share equipment, players have to wear masks when they’re not playing, and only 50 spectators will be allowed.
“We have some rule changes with the kids’ safety and health in mind and we are in compliance with the state guidelines,” Nofri said. “We will probably double roster some of the kids in U-19 and U-17, but we are just happy to finally get this thing going.”
The Naugy U-19 team is set to begin play June 30 at Naugatuck High School at 5:45 p.m. against Oakville. Naugatuck also has games slated for July 1 against Bethel and a double-header against Winsted on July 2.
“We are looking to have an organized practice a couple of times the week before we start the season,” Nofri said. “I know some of the kids have been working out on their own, and I have a batting cage in my yard and had a few kids partake in that. So, we are looking to be ready to go come June 30.”