The multi-sport turf field at Central Maine Community College in Auburn takes shape in this aerial photo from Monday afternoon August 5, 2019. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The reality of a spring without baseball hit Ryan Palmer hard on Friday.

The former Dirigo High School coach and his Central Maine Community College baseball team were scheduled to open their season on their new turf field at the school against UMaine-Presque Isle. UMPI would be stopping by on its trip home from a Florida trip, where it was to play 11 games in six days.

But there was no one to shout “Play ball!” on the yet-to-be-named diamond on Friday. Like most colleges around the state and nation, CMCC and UMPI canceled spring sports last week due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead of sitting in his new dugout, Palmer sat in his recliner at home as he and the Mustangs do their social distancing part and wonder about what the future holds.

“Our guys were all in,” Palmer said. “We had 17 guys ready to go until everything came to a screeching halt.”

The Mustangs had been practicing for a week to prepare for not only Opening Day but also a road trip to Boston to play Great Bay Community College on Saturday when Palmer first got word that the season might be in jeopardy.

“You just saw the domino effect with all sports, starting at the pro level (suspending play) and the colleges started canceling their seasons,” he said.

Once North Atlantic Conference teams such as UMPI and UMaine-Farmington announced late last week that they were canceling their seasons, Palmer knew the Mustangs’ 17-game spring schedule would be the next domino to fall.

Last Sunday, CMCC and Southern Maine Community College jointly announced they were canceling their spring baseball and softball seasons due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus.

Palmer, 38, who played at CMCC 2001-03 and coached the Mustangs during fall baseball in 2013, was looking forward to hitting the ground running for his second stint.

Numbers and enthusiasm were strong when the team started practicing at Auburn’s indoor Ingersoll Turf Facility before the high school basketball tournament. Palmer was expecting an influx of talent from the school’s hockey program and a deep eight-man pitching staff to help the Mustangs build momentum for the fall season, which is when the Yankee Small College Conference holds its baseball championship.

Now, everything in the college game from spring recruiting to the fall season itself is in flux.

“I just don’t know what the fall is going to look like,” Palmer said. “I’m still in contact with my players, and I can’t tell them when we’re going to be back. I just don’t know.”

“No one knows how long this is going to last,” he added. “It’s not just the baseball itself. I was excited about the season, but I was excited about hitting the recruiting trail this spring, too.”

Palmer can still make phone calls to potential players who have applied to the school and work his contacts throughout Maine high school baseball to find talent, but nothing compares to going to see players in person. With several high schools around the state, including Edward Little and Lewiston, announcing on Friday that they would remain closed until at least April 27, Palmer wondered if he and other coaches will have a chance to see potential recruits in action this spring.

“It makes me think about those kids we won’t be able to recruit,” he said. “Even if a (college) coach has seen them play before, the recruiting end of it will be tough. And it would absolutely break my heart for those kids not to have a senior season in high school.”

Palmer, a Mountain Valley High School alumnus, coached high school baseball for 13 years, at Mt. Abram 2007-2010, then at Dirigo 2011-2019. He was named Mountain Valley Conference coach of the year four times while compiling a 153-69 record and leading Dirigo to four MVC titles and back-to-back Class C state championships in 2012 and 2013.

Dirigo has named Bob Karcher, who also coaches soccer at the school, its new varsity baseball coach to replace Palmer.

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