The American Legion Twins forfeited four games Sunday due to the use of an ineligible player, dropping the Twins from fourth in the final league standings to tied for sixth.
Those standings will be used to seed the Legion AA State Tournament. The tourney, at which the Twins are the defending champions, starts Thursday.
Sunday, the Twins defeated South to finish at 15-7 in the league. However, the Twins used ineligible player Zach Haning in AA games in which they went 4-2, dropping their record to 11-11.
Haning was ineligible because of a new rule passed by the Alaska State Baseball Committee before this season.
The rule says that all players on Legion teams must live within a 50-mile radius of the team’s base school. The base school for the Twins is Kenai Central High School, and Haning lives in Anchor Point.
In a letter dated July 11, 2013, from state Legion Baseball Co Chair Tony Maldonado to Kenai Post 20 Baseball Manager Lance Coz, Maldonado writes the new 50-mile radius rule is to promote the growth of baseball across Alaska.
“Even though Alaska population has increased in the last 10 years, and Alaska high school baseball teams have increased to nearly 30 teams as of this year, American Legion Baseball Varsity AA participation in Alaska has not substantially in the last 15 years,” Maldonado writes.
Coz has been the Post 20 Baseball Manager for 37 years. He also said he had been on the Alaska State Baseball Committee for 30 years before he was taken off the committee this offseason.
“They said it was too hard to contact me in Arizona,” Coz said. “I thought I was a valuable voice on the committee because I would always make sure voices from outside of Anchorage were heard.”
Coz said Sunday that when he learned of the rule before the season, he strongly disagreed with the rule because it would keep players from areas like Homer and Kodiak from joining the Twins if Homer and Kodiak did not have the players or money to form a team on their own.
Coz said the tenants of Legion baseball are to increase player participation and to foster competition at the highest level possible.
“The new rule restricts both of those,” Coz said.
Coz said the Twins have always been available as a base team for the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak.
Coz said that due to financial challenges and a large number of potential players taking summer work, Kodiak and Homer have not been able to form steady teams of their own.
When Kodiak and Homer players have wanted to play baseball, the Twins have always been there to take them if there is space on the roster.
With support of the parents and the players, Coz decided to fight the new rule by including Homer players Tommy Bowe, Brian Rowe and Haning on the roster this year.
“I asked the booster club members and coaches whether they wanted to take the Homer players with the possibility that we may have to forfeit all of our games,” Coz said. “One hundred percent said they wanted to keep the Homer players.”
Maldonado first wrote a letter to Coz on June 28 that the Twins’ roster had three players from Homer, in violation of the 50-mile radius rule. From there, Coz initiated an appeals process that twice reached the national level.
That appeals process was exhausted Friday, when the Legion national appeals board issued a ruling.
Steven Cloud, Legion Assistant Baseball Program Coordinator, Americanism, Children and Youth Division, wrote that because Rowe and Bowe have been on the team roster in previous seasons, they should be grandfathered in.
So Rowe and Bowe are eligible to participate in the state tournament. If those two regular players had been deemed ineligible, the Twins would have had to forfeit all of their games.
But the board ruled Haning joined the team after the rule regarding the 50-mile radius was implemented. Thus, Haning is ineligible and the Twins lose four games. Haning has been taken off the Twins roster.
Coz said Sunday night his last-ditch effort came Saturday morning, when a parent informed him that Haning lived in Anchor Point.
Coz said one of the parents used GPS to determine that Haning’s house is exactly 50 miles from Kenai Central.
But Coz said this GPS attempt was shot down by the Alaska State Baseball Committee because national Legion rules stipulate Mapquest must be used, and Mapquest says Haning’s house is 56 miles from Kenai Central.
“Over the past 30 years, there’s been an exemption from the use of Mapquest due to the lack of highways in Alaska,” Coz said. “We’ve been allowed to use a protractor and a pencil, and now the GPS replaces that.
“But they couldn’t be convinced.”
Coz said he will fight to have the 50-mile radius rule changed in the offseason.
He said he was glad Cloud wrote the following: “The appeals board also indicated that the Alaska Baseball Committee have further discussions regarding this new recruiting rule to deal with situations if teams fail to form thereby creating dead territories.”
But Coz said the national appeals board can’t force Alaska to change the rule.