TIMEOUT by Joe Flanagan

Baseball Passion Alive & Well

Several weeks ago in this space I pondered the fading presence of American Legion baseball in Albion and other communities in our area and around the state.
I received many comments in regard to that column and my thoughts on the subject. More comments, in fact, than any column I’ve tapped out in quite some time.
My conclusion from that response and the nerve my words apparently touched?
Baseball ain’t dead yet brother!
It’s obvious that, while Albion did not field a Senior Legion team in ‘09 and likely won’t again in 2010, there is still much baseball interest and passion in our community.
And, while our Legion ranks are currently struggling, there was plenty of ball played in Albion this summer. Darn good ball too.
In case you missed it, the Albion Pony League, with a number of players who helped field a Junior Legion team as well, won the Quad County League championship with an outstanding 15-1 record and three victories over perennial league heavyweight Norfolk.
One of Albion’s Little League PeeWee teams chimed in with a 15-3 season and third-place finish in the league tournament.
In speaking with some of the coaches and fathers involved with these teams, I find an abundance of optimism and enthusiasm in the future of Albion baseball. Success will do that.
There is certainly a strong crop of young athletes on the horizon locally, which bodes well for not only baseball, but our school year sports, as well.
As far as future American Legion prospects go, the hope is today’s Pony Leaguers will form the nucleus for a more healthy Junior squad next season and the return of Senior ball at some point.
I truly hope that’s the case, but it will take a strong commitment from these players, coaches and parents. Unfortunately, the coming years will also be the time these athletes really begin to feel the tugs of time demands from many directions – jobs, summer conditioning for other sports, camps and clinics, etc.
It will come down to continued participation and healthy numbers, the lack of which shelved Senior Legion baseball in 2009.
It’s worked in the past here and many communities have American Legion programs that are thriving. However, quite a few strong baseball towns have seen their Legion pools dry up and their fields become idle on summer nights.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the challenge. I do believe it will take commitment and cooperation from all involved. Parents need to take an active interest. Baseball coaches must be sympathetic to the situation and work with the athletes, as well as coaches in other sports, to alleviate conflicts when possible. And, athletes simply need to make strong commitments and some sacrifices.
It won’t be easy. However, I’ve always heard it said “most things worthwhile don’t come easily”. And maybe shouldn’t.
American Legion baseball is a grand tradition in communities large and small. Legion baseball dates back to 1926 and many Hall of Famers have worn American Legion uniforms. Baseball has been one of the greatest “participation” sports in our country’s history.
Here’s hoping our Little Leaguers and Pony Leaguers continue to enjoy the game, have success and retain their enthusiasm and desire – hopefully reviving that American Legion tradition in Albion.