On the diamond

No shortage of options for young Waldo County baseball players

Little League reintroduced to Belfast-Northport-Swanville area, Cal Ripken now partnered with YMCA
By Mark Haskell | Apr 13, 2017

Belfast — The emergence of more options for youth baseball in Waldo County — more specifically, in the Belfast-Northport-Swanville area — has left no shortage of questions for residents with the start of the seasons on-deck.

And thanks to Triton Athletics, Little League baseball officially has returned to the Belfast-Northport-Swanville area, while Cal Ripken League baseball also continues to serve the area after partnering with the Waldo County YMCA.

Triton Athletics, which also sponsors youth wrestling and football, has entered the foray of youth baseball as they will sponsor a team comprised of Belfast, Northport and Swanville residents to compete in Waldo County Little League.

It is the first time Little League baseball will be formally offered in those three towns/city since 2011 as the former Belfast-Northport-Swanville Little League changed affiliations to Cal Ripken baseball in 2012.

The Cal Ripken League is a lower level of the Babe Ruth League, which, like Little League, operates worldwide.

Cal Ripken and Little League serves ages 5 to 16, but, at the highest local age level, the Major League level, the leagues are for those ages 9-12 (some who turn 13 during the season also play).

Brent Waterman, who represents Triton Athletics, said a group of parents had approached him with hopes of an alternative to Cal Ripken for their children.

Waterman attended a Midcoast Cal Ripken League meeting earlier this year with the intent to inquire about taking over the league under the Triton Athletics banner — and essentially transitioning the Midcoast Cal Ripken League back to Little League.

“We met with them and they weren’t interested in having us do that,” said Waterman. “But there was still a lot of interest from the community to offer Little League and some unknowns [at the time] about what would happen with Cal Ripken.”

What would happen, as it turned out, was the Cal Ripken organization reached out to the Waldo County YMCA and will partner with that organization and be run under the YMCA banner.

“The YMCA here in Waldo County has always been the community hub,” said Brandon Hall, Waldo County YMCA youth and adult sports director. “[The Cal Ripken] board made a decision to approach us collectively at the end of last year and we were humbled by the opportunity [to get involved]. It’s what we do. We took it on headstrong and in full force.”

The former board of Cal Ripken now is an advisory committee, with Hall and the YMCA overseeing the organization.

Hall, who at 26 is new to the area and graduated from Messalonskee High School of Oakland in 2009, said his time playing Cal Ripken baseball “was the best time of my life” and “we’ve already seen a huge amount of kids come and register.”

“I had a great experience playing [Cal Ripken] in Messalonskee,” he said. “I’m familiar with it and I let the board know so they really grabbed a hold of that with me being young. They felt it was a natural transition to have us be involved and they’re looking toward the future and the longevity of the program.”

Hall added that the collaboration between Cal Ripken and the Waldo County YMCA was not only a plus for “the longevity of the program,” but with Walsh Field being so close in proximity — less than a quarter of a mile away from the YMCA — “It just makes sense,” he said.

The collaboration of Midcoast Cal Ripken and the Waldo County YMCA also is a home run for local youth softball.

Last season, Midcoast Cal Ripken fielded a U12 softball team, but Hall said those numbers have jumped since 2016 as there will be a total of four Major League teams this year — two from Belfast and two more from the Mount View area, along with three Minor League squads.

“I guess it’s been missing for a while and people are hungry for it,” said Hall of youth softball. “I think it just goes to show that through the Y, people come to us. They know what we’re about. We’re excited and the people from Mount View are excited. It adds more levels to play and we’ll be playing some games up at Larrabee Field [in Knox as well].”

Hall added that where there are not two youth softball leagues in Waldo County — as there now is with baseball — softball is open to any player within the county’s 26 towns.

Waldo County Little League draws from Burnham, Troy, Unity, Thorndike, Jackson, Monroe, Frankfort, Freedom, Knox, Brooks, Swanville, Stockton Springs, Montville, Morrill, Waldo, Searsport, Liberty, Searsmont, Belmont, Belfast and Northport.

The Midcoast Cal Ripken League draws from the towns of Belfast, Northport, Swanville, Searsport, Searsmont, Liberty, Belmont, Waldo, Brooks, Monroe and Morrill.

Winterport, Lincolnville, Islesboro, Palermo and Prospect — the other five towns in Waldo County — are part of other youth baseball organizations.

Thus, all towns that fall under the Cal Ripken banner also could play for the Belfast-based team in Waldo County Little League.

Players do have the option to play for multiple leagues simultaneously, but that can become a slippery slope for players who hope to qualify to play on district all-star teams.

Little League’s policies say players must compete in 60 percent of regular-season games to be eligible to be selected to the district all-star teams, while in Cal Ripken the number is 50 percent of regular-season games.

District 2 Little League Administrator Dana Verge said any 12-year-old players eligible to play on a middle school baseball team — such as the squad at Troy Howard Middle School — also can do both.

The Midcoast Cal Ripken League holds the same policy.

Once the league championships conclude, Waldo County Little League players who make the all-star teams for the various age groups will compete under the District 2 Little League banner, competing for the district title against teams from Medomak Valley in the Waldoboro area, Oceanside in the Rockland area, Lincoln County in the Damariscotta area and Five Town in the Camden-Rockport area, among others.

Midcoast Cal Ripken players who make the all-star teams will compete under the District 5 Cal Ripken banner, competing for the district title against teams from Messalonskee, Madison and Skowhegan, among others.

Former Midcoast Cal Ripken League president and current umpire-in-chief Scott Cournoyer feels the arrangement could be a detriment to Cal Ripken, particularly given Waldo County Little League can now draw from 21-of-26 Waldo County towns and Midcoast Cal Ripken can only draw from 11-of-26 — and each of those 11 towns can pick and choose which organization to participate in.

“When it comes time for all stars and when the true competitive nature of things come to the front, we’re basically split in talent from this area,” he said. “Half of our kids will go to Little League and half will go to Cal Ripken. And it’s not going to go well for anybody.”

He added that numbers in Cal Ripken already have dwindled in recent years before Little League was reintroduced to the Belfast-Northport-Swanville area.

“We’re already reducing in numbers every single year,” he said. “Five years ago we had five Major League teams and four Minor League teams. So you’re talking maybe 100 kids among these nine teams. This year given the numbers we have now we’re looking at three majors and two minors.

“Why can’t we work together? Why can’t we have 62 kids working together, playing on teams together and just play baseball? Why do we need two different leagues?”

The Midcoast Cal Ripken League will have "about 150 kids in both the baseball and softball programs combined" and "will have two majors and three or four minors for baseball and two majors and three minors for softball," said Hall.

Belfast-Northport-Swanville Little League will have one Major League team that will compete in the Waldo County Little League.

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Mark Haskell
Associate Sports Director
594-4401, ext. 116
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.

Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.

He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.

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