The landscape in American Legion baseball in Connecticut looks a lot different this summer.
In the offseason, the American Legion state baseball committee reduced the number of zones from eight to six. Three of the six zones have 10 teams while two zones, Zones 1 and 6, have nine teams.
Zone 5 was originally slated to have 10 teams but a lack of numbers has that zone down to just seven members.
Every zone saw teams leave and join with a few zones now looking radically different.
The consolidation of zones and reduced number of teams is a growing trend and one the state legion board is concerned about.
“We are not in panic mode but we are in a bit of a crisis,” American Legion baseball state chairman David Greenleaf said. “We had several teams consolidate in the offseason but then right before the season we found out a couple more teams were not going to have teams. We are hoping that next year we can get back a few of those teams, like Waterbury and Milford, which have been long-time teams in Connecticut Legion baseball.”
Last season, there were eight zones with Zone 4 fielding 11 teams, Zone 5 with 10 teams and three zones with nine teams each (2, 5, 7). Zone 3 and Zone 8 had eight teams while Zone 1 was down to seven teams.
Those unbalanced zones made scheduling difficult and affected playoff standings for several teams.
“Our original goal was six zones of 12 teams each,” Greenleaf said. “Once teams started consolidating or were not able to field teams, at all, that became impossible and we went for 10 teams in six zones.”
Milford, Wolcott and Waterbury were all scheduled to play this summer but did not have enough players to field teams, leaving the void in Zone 5.
Monroe and Oxford had already folded prior to the offseason
Zone 5 did pick up Washington, which has formed a new team, joining Oakville, Torrington, Bethel, Danbury, Naugatuck and Shelton.
Unless Zone 5 can reclaim teams that left this year, it will be difficult to balance the zones after this season.
“We are trying to make it balanced but it will be hard to move teams into Zone 5 next year,” Greenleaf said. “It is tough without making it a big-time travel issue for some teams. Certainly, we don’t want to ask teams to drive across the state to play zone games.”
Both Wolcott and Milford are fielding junior (17U) teams this summer, giving hope to a revival of those programs at the senior level.
Zone 1 is at nine teams with Berlin, Hartford, Newington and West Hartford coming over from Zone 7 and Torrington and Wolcott shifting to Zone 5. Avon, Bristol, Simsbury, Winsted and defending state champion Southington remain in Zone 1.
Plainville would have been the 10th team in Zone 1, but the program did not field a team.
Zone 6 is also down to nine teams with New London no longer having a team.
Losing Darien/New Canaan, which folded, Zone 4 is now Stamford, Trumbull, Westport, Wilton, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Norwalk, Wilton, Ridgefield and Stratford, which relocated from Zone 2.
Stratford’s old home in Zone 2 saw changes with Milford moving to Zone 5 before folding and Cheshire, Meriden, Wallingford and Madison moving from Zone 3 into 2, joining Branford, Hamden, New Haven, North Haven, Orange and East Haven.
Zone 3 is nearly unrecognizable with Cheshire, Meriden, Wallingford and Madison moving to Zone 2.
Joining Zone 3 are Zone 8 champion Tolland — now called Northeast, Enfield and South Windsor as are Zone 7 champions RCP and Tri-County. East Hartford and Manchester have combined to form one team.
Five teams from each zone make the state tournament. Greenleaf said that would not change this season despite Zone 5’s consolidation.
Each zone is split up into two divisions. Teams play the opponents in their division three times and play the opponents in the opposite division twice.
Division champions qualify for the state tournament along with the next three teams in the zone with the best record.
2019 ZONE BREAKDOWNS
Avon, Bristol, Simsbury, Winsted
Berlin, Hartford, Newington, Southington, West Hartford
Branford, Cheshire, Madison, Meriden, Wallingford
Hamden, New Haven, North Haven, Orange, East Haven
Ellington, Enfield, South Windsor, Northeast-Tolland, Windsor Locks/Windsor (NCL)
East Hartford/Manchester (EHM), Glastonbury, Middletown, RCP, Tri-County
Greenwich, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Stamford, Westport
Bridgeport, Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Wilton
Oakville, Torrington, Washington
Bethel, Danbury, Naugatuck, Shelton
Danielson, Moosup, Tri-Town, Willimantic
Jewett City, Ledyard/Pawcatuck, Niantic, Norwich, Waterford