Veteran's Corner

Play Ball!

American Legion Post 24’s 2013 Legion Team (Photo courtesy Jim Glassman)

By Donna Reuss

Alexandria, VA – What do Yogi Berra, Frank Robinson, WiIlie Stargell, Ted Williams, and over 75 other Baseball Hall of Famers have in common? They played American Legion Baseball!

American Legion Baseball is the first program in the world to provide a national baseball tournament for teenagers. It aims to give players “an opportunity to develop their skills, personal fitness, leadership qualities, and to have more fun.” Under the Legion’s Americanism pillar, athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others and fosters growth as active citizens. Played by 13- to 19-year-olds, Legion Baseball registers as many as 5,400 teams in the United States and Canada.

Since its beginnings, American Legion Baseball has continued to thrive in good times and bad, through a World War and many national tragedies. Only the COVID pandemic stopped play for one year in 2020.

The American Legion Department of South Dakota first proposed the creation of an organized summer baseball league in 1925, and the resolution passed at the Legion’s National Convention that year. In 1926, 15 states organized teams and held championship tournaments. The first American Legion World Series was played in Philadelphia: Yonkers, NY, beat Pocatello, ID. The winning team got a trip to Major League Baseball’s World Series, a tradition that continues today.

Funding, however, was an issue. Travel costs were higher than expected, the 1927 World Series was canceled, and the program’s future looked doubtful. The Legion approached the Commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB), who pledged a $50,000 annual donation. Legion Baseball resumed in 1928, and by 1929, teams from every state and the District of Columbia participated.

During the Great Depression, MLB pulled its annual donation, but the Legion secured funds from several major newspaper publishers. Thankfully, MLB resumed funding in 1935 with a $20,000 donation. Although no formal partnership exists, MLB continues supporting Legion Baseball with an annual grant.

For its part, Legion Baseball has turned out major league prospects in untold numbers. More than half of current major leaguers played Legion Baseball, as did almost every working MLB manager and several former baseball commissioners.

Over time, the Legion Baseball League instituted awards to recognize current and former members for everything from playing ability to sportsmanship. It also awards up to $25,000 in annual college scholarships. Further, corporate sponsorships have garnered everything from team uniforms to additional scholarship funds.

In 2011, Shelby, NC, became the permanent home of the American Legion World Series. Games are streamed on ESPN3. The 2024 World Series is scheduled for August 15-20.

The future of American Legion Baseball may not be rosy, however. Travel teams, sometimes called “showcase” teams, have begun chipping away at the pool of potential Legion Baseball players.

The cost to play Legion Baseball is minimal; Posts generally fundraise to help defray expenses. Travel teams play in weekend tournaments, with programs for kids as young as eight. These players build relationships and tend to stay with the program as they age.

But travel teams often require commitments up to several thousand dollars to join, with additional tournament-related expenses such as meals, hotel rooms, and transportation. This may exclude good athletes who do not have the financial means to participate.

Travel tournaments labeled “National Championship” may, in reality, be private competitions. And travel teams, often run by high school coaches as a de facto off-season training program or by for-profit baseball trainers, may even dissolve after a few years.

Many travel team devotees think the investment is worth it, believing these players receive more college and professional scout exposure and get recruited by bigger schools than those on Legion teams. Thus, players tend to concentrate on developing their personal skills in contrast with the team- and character-building focus of Legion teams.

Despite losing nearly a quarter of its teams over the past ten years, American Legion Baseball continues to stand behind the traditional values on which it was founded nearly 100 years ago: making teammates out of young athletes regardless of income level or social standing. Aside from notable former players, there are myriad stories of Legion Baseball’s positive impact on young men’s lives.

American Legion Post 24 in the City of Alexandria, as well as Posts in Arlington and Fairfax Counties, sponsor teams and welcome volunteers for a variety of team support tasks. Contact your local Post, or go to legion.org/baseball for information. The local area team schedule is at legion17baseball.org.

If you are a veteran, veteran’s family member, or know a veteran who needs help, go to Virginia Board Veterans Services at dvs.virginia.gov/dvs; dss.virginia.gov/community/211.cgi; contact American Legion Post 24 Veteran Service Officer at [email protected]; or check out the Resources List on the Post 24 website: valegionpost24.com. For crisis intervention and suicide prevention services, dial 988 and Press 1, or text 838255, for the Veterans Crisis Line.

 Remembering Heroes

Join the Office of Historic Alexandria, VFW Post 609, and American Legion Post 24 at Gadsby’s Tavern, 400 Cameron St, at 6 pm on Friday, June 14, for the ceremonial placement of a plaque honoring Vietnam War Veterans.

ICYMI: Senior Services of Alexandria Presents Senior Law Day 2024

 

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