With the youth baseball season is on the horizon for Waldo County children, it will bring changes to those preparing to take the diamond when the winter weather turns to spring.

In recent years, there have been two youth baseball leagues in Waldo County, both under the umbrella of the international Little League organization. Those leagues included Belfast/Northport/Swanville and Waldo County. Both were members of Maine’s Little League District 2.

This year, however, in Waldo County there will be three leagues, only one of which will carry the traditional Little League banner.

The Belfast/Northport Swanville Little League has made the move to the Cal Ripken League, while another league has formed in part of Waldo County, which will be known as the Mid-Coast Cal Ripken League.

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

Other parts of Waldo County will continue to have teams in Little League, also a worldwide organization.

Both Little League and Cal Ripken have baseball programs for children of many ages. The Major League levels include children ages 9-12. There also are Minor League levels for younger children.

The newly formed Belfast/Northport/Swanville Cal Ripken League will operate exactly as it had when it was the Belfast/Northport/Swanville Little League during the regular season and league playoffs, according to league president Stan Sturgis.

“Everything about our league will stay exactly the same as far as a parent can see,” he said. “If you live in Belfast, Northport or Swanville, you come and play for us.”

That Belfast/Northport/Swanville teams will play amongst themselves under the umbrella of the Cal Ripken League.

However, once the regular-season concludes and the state all-star tournaments begin, the league will participate in the Cal Ripken District 5 tournament, as opposed to the District 2 Little League tournament in the recent past.

The newly-formed Mid-Coast Cal Ripken League also will participate in District 5 and draw youngsters from the towns of Searsmont, Belmont, Morrill, Liberty, Waldo and Monroe.

“The opportunities in the Cal Ripken League are vast,” said Jason Fuller, vice-president of the league. “We can play year-round ball if we want, spring ball, fall ball, winter ball. Just constant baseball for our kids if they choose to.”

District 5 for the Cal Ripken League is comprised of teams from Fairfield, Skowhegan, Waterville, Oakland, Belgrade and Wilton, in addition to the new Belfast/Northport/Swanville and Mid-Coast League, which includes the above listed Waldo County towns.

There are “about 30 Major League teams” and “about 40 Minor League teams” in District 5, according to Maine Babe Ruth Baseball Commissioner Steve Tricomi.

Another selling point for Sturgis was players are insured year-round, not just within the constraints of the playing season, “so the kids can play more baseball.”

Another difference is pitchers in the Cal Ripken League are limited by innings, not pitch count, as is the rule in Little League.

The first Babe Ruth baseball league was for players ages 13-15 and was assembled in 1951, named after famous professional baseball player George Herman “Babe” Ruth. In 1966 the organization added a 16-18-year-old division, which later became known as Senior League Babe Ruth.

In 1982, the 4-12-year-old age group joined the Babe Ruth League, nicknamed the Bambino Division, named after Ruth’s nickname, “The Great Bambino.” In 1999, the Babe Ruth League changed the name of the division, which would become the 5-12-year-old age group from Bambino to Cal Ripken.

Presently, more than 700,000 youngsters play Cal Ripken Baseball worldwide, according to ripkenbaseball.com.

For Searsmont residents, sign-ups for the Mid-Coast Cal Ripken League will be Monday and Tuesday, March 5-6 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Searsmont Community Building.

For Belmont, Morrill and Waldo residents, sign-ups for the Mid-Coast Cal Ripken League will be Thursday, March 1 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Waldo Town Hall and the Morrill Community Center.

Sign-ups for the Belfast/Northport Swanville Cal Ripken League will be Wednesday and Thursday, March 7-8 from 5-7 p.m. at the Waldo County YMCA.

Waldo County Little League

Though the Waldo County Little League may lose players to the newly-formed and neighboring Cal Ripken Leagues, youth baseball still is alive and well in the Waldo County Little League, said league president Howard Fogg.

“Even though there is the new [league] that’s been hooked up, Waldo County Little League isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

Waldo County Little League is comprised of 10 teams made of youngsters from the towns of Unity, Thorndike, Brooks, Frankfort, Winterport, Liberty, Waldo, Searsport and Stockton Springs. WCLL will continue to take part in the District 2 Little League tournaments at the conclusion of its regular seasons as it has in the past.

Fogg said the only drawback for Waldo County Little League due to the formation of a separate youth baseball program in the county likely will be losing a few Minor League teams, but the Waldo County Little League still plans to have 10 Major League squads at the start of the 2012 season.

Additionally, where the town of Waldo will have a Cal Ripken team, players from the towns of Searsmont, Belmont and Morrill also can join the Waldo Little League team if they choose.

“Any of the kids that live within those towns, they’re not mandated to play Cal Ripken,” said Fogg. “Little League will find a team for them to play on if they want to stay underneath the Little League system.”

Fogg said sign-ups for Waldo County Little League teams are “tentatively” set for Thursday, March 15.

Little League originated in Williamsport, Pa. in 1939 thanks to the vision of resident Carl E. Stotz. Now, Little League offers baseball and softball to children worldwide, including in nations such as Israel, Jordan, Russia, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Poland, Mexico, China, Venezuela and South Africa, as well as throughout its birth nation of the U.S. More than 2.5 million children play Little League baseball and softball worldwide, according to the official Little League website.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.