TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

Albion Keeping Summer Pings Alive

The past two summers have seen Albion without an American Legion Seniors baseball team.
I touched on the subject around this time last year, noting that the missing ping of Legion bats is becoming an all-too-familiar silence in Nebraska’s rural communities.
I followed up that original column with another about the success of several local teams in lower age brackets, the good number of young athletes competing and the vow of several coaches and parents to keep our “summer pastime” alive.
The heart of baseball is indeed still beating in Albion. That’s a testament to the passion and hard work by those parents and coaches and the dedication and sacrifice of the athletes themselves.
This was especially true last summer when a number of players of Pony League age were willing to face older competition and take their lumps so Albion could field a Junior Legion program.
This year, that Juniors team was a year older and a year better. Even though Albion went two-and-out in the district tournament this past week, the Juniors were competitive and enthusiastic, boding well for an even brighter future. In fact, the hope is to field a Senior Legion squad again within the next several years.
Albion’s Legion future will soon include an infusion of talent from a Pony League program that shared its second consecutive league championship last week. Of course, the key will be keeping enough of those players on the diamond as they progress to the high school level and become involved in a myriad of conflicting activities that include conditioning and summer leagues/camps in other sports, summer employment, family commitments and activities, and more.
After all, the recent demise of the Senior Legion was simply the lack of numbers. Following a nice run of strong high school classes in Albion that helped produce a competitive Legion program, those numbers simply haven’t been there the past two years.
The numbers deficit has also  been felt during the school year in sports drawing from the same pools of athletes, such as boys basketball and wrestling and girls volleyball and softball.
However, the school sports don’t face some of the complications that hinder the baseball program (summer jobs, family vacations, etc.) and you sure don’t see basketball and football players missing time for baseball conditioning and leagues or camps.
Keeping a baseball program alive at the Legion level is a challenge in this day and age, but one some dedicated individuals are doing their best to meet.
That’s a great thing. The Albion Sports Complex has grown into a jewel of a facility over the years and a hive of activity during the summer months. The Legion field, with continued improvement projects spearheaded by Legion Coach Lowell Imus and other volunteers, is the centerpiece of the complex and it would be a shame to ever see it sit idle.
In fact, the more nights the lights shine on all the complex fields, with activity by youngsters of all ages, the better.
Albion did another terrific job hosting the district tournament this past week, thanks again to the unflagging volunteer efforts of our community’s many baseball fans.
Congratulations and thank yous are in order to all involved.
Here’s hoping the efforts of those previously mentioned pay off with the continued ringing of Legion bats – at both Junior and Senior levels – for many summers to come.

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