Baseball

MIKE MAGEE/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Kodiak Post 17 second baseman Malaki Olson waits to apply a tag on a Wasilla runner during a 2019 American Legion baseball game at Baranof Field. 

In less than 48 hours, American Legion baseball in Alaska went from moving forward with a season to having those plans halted by the American Legion national office an Indiana. 

On Sunday, the American Legion National Organization canceled the 2020 summer season nationwide because of the coronavirus. The Legion World Series and regional tournaments were canceled in early April. 

“Earlier today, I received an email from the National Office of American Legion Baseball season has been canceled,” Alaska Legion Chairman Russ Baker wrote in an email to coaches. “Prior to this message, we were free to form teams and conduct games within Alaska.” 

And that was the plan as Baker instructed teams to begin preparation for a Legion season in a Friday email. 

The Alliance for the support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska is moving forward with organizing a league not associated with American Legion, which the national office said was acceptable in its Sunday release. 

“Those departments that conduct this 2020 season program will need to determine their rules, guidelines, schedules, insurance coverage, etc., for their own programs as The American Legion National Organization will not provide this assistance,” the release stated. 

The alliance will hold a conference call with post managers later this week to discuss the future of the season. 

“Our plan is to form a league that would closely resemble the previously planned hybrid Legion season,” Baker wrote. “Obviously, there are details that will need to be resolved, and we are working on them now.” 

Kodiak Post 17 has opted not to be part of the independent league and will shift its focus on returning to the diamond in 2021. 

“It didn’t feel right asking local businesses and parents for support during these tough times,” Post 17 coach Derek Clarkston said. 

Post 17 is a self-funded program, and Clarkston said all of the funding comes via business sponsorships, fundraisers and player fees. He said it takes about $15,000 to fund a two-month season, which begins in June. Because of COVID-19, the team wasn’t able to start fundraising in March. 

Clarkston said he spent Sunday informing parents and players of the decision to forgo the upcoming season. 

“It was heartbreaking having to take another thing away from these kids,” he said. “But, it was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if a visiting player, coach, or parent brought the virus to the island. The decision was made with the health of the community in mind.”

There are 17 Legion teams in Alaska, with Kodiak, Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka the only teams off the road system. The other teams are in Kenai, Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks. 

Traveling off-island was also a concern for the Post 17 coaching staff as they feared it would have been difficult to find lodging — the team typically stays at churches. 

Clarkston said he plans to hold unofficial practices throughout the summer to allow players to do something baseball-related.

Kodiak has a rich history of playing Legion baseball. Led by icon coach Joe Floyd, Post 17 was a state power in the 1980s and won the program’s only state title in 1985. 

The program dried up after the 1992 season and was revived for one season in 2009. The program returned in 2013 and has fielded a team every summer until this year.

Clarkston has coached every game since 2013, including guiding Post 17 to a historic upset victory over top-seeded Juneau in the opening round of the 2018 state tournament.

Kodiak finished last season with a 5-27-1 record. 

“By no means is this the end of Legion baseball in Kodiak,” Clarkston said. “We are looking forward to returning for the 2021 season.”

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