Category Archives: American Legion

Rockport wins 11th Indiana American Legion Baseball championship

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the 11th time, Rockport Post 254 toted away the hardware.
Rockport beat Crawfordsville Post 72 by a 4-2 count in the Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State Finals championship game.
The contest was staged Tuesday, July 27 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo and closed out a five-day run for the eight-team double-elimination tournament.
Rockport (20-7) came out of the winners’ bracket, meaning that losers’ bracket survivor Crawfordsville (20-12) had to win twice to earn its first state crown and instead took home its first runner-up trophy.
Post 254 and Post 72 advanced to the championship game with wins in Monday’s semifinals.
With the state crown, Rockport moves on to the Great Lakes Regional Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 4-8 at Dale Miller Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
Besides the Indiana champion, there will be state title-takers from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.
Eight regional winners advance to the American Legion Baseball World Series Thursday through Monday, Aug. 12-16 on Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C.
Post 254 prevailed Tuesday by staying away from the big Post 72 inning.
“That’s been one of the secrets of this bunch,” said Rockport manager Jim Haaf, who has been involved with all 11 state titles. “They overcome and they did it several times today.”
Crawfordsville plated one run in the top of the seventh inning.
Drew Bradley (2021 Danville Community High School) led off with a walk.
With two outs, Post 254 right-handed starter Jake Stuteville (South Spencer Class of 2021) reached the 105-pitch count limit (he finished with 107 while finishing a batter) was spelled by right-hander Reece Davis (Perry Central Class of 2021), who yielded a single to center from George Valencia (Fountain Central Class of 2020) that plated Bradley then coaxed a championship-clinching infield pop-up.
“I trusted my fastball,” said Stuteville, who struck out six, walked three and gave up five hits and two runs in his 5 1/3 innings. “It was moving.
“I just had confidence in myself.”
Rockport scored one run in the sixth for a 4-1 lead.
Right-hander Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie Class of 2021) reached the pitch limit (he tossed 109 while being allowed to finish a batter) and was relieved by Bradley with the bases loaded and two outs after a pair of Southern strikeouts.
Bradley walked Ashton Tindle (South Spencer Class of 2022) to force in Bren Miller (Tell City Class of 2021), who led off the inning with a single to left) and the frame ended with a strikeout.
Southern gave up four runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.
There were runners at first and second base against Stuteville at the close of the Post 72 sixth.
“It’s rough,” said four-year Crawfordsville manager Kyle Proctor, who saw his team strand eight runners, including four in scoring position. “I think we could have won the championship, but they beat us the first time and put us in the losers’ bracket, making it a lot tougher.”
Jacob Braun (North Montgomery Class of 2021) rapped a one-out single to left and Matthew Harris (Tri-West Hendricks Class of 2021) drew a walk before an inning-ending forceout and third base off the bat of Zach Fichter (Crawfordsville Class of 2021).
The Rockport fifth ended with a defensive gem. Post 72 first baseman Cade Walker (Seeger Class of 2021) made a diving catch of a line drive by Jackson Raaf (South Spencer Class of 2022) and threw to shortstop Owen Gregg (North Montgomery Class of 2020) to double off Jalen Johnson (South Spencer Class of 2022), who had reached on an error and stolen second base. Southern was on the mound for Crawfordsville.
Stuteville worked his way in and out of a jam in a scoreless Crawfordsville fifth.
With one out. Fichter was hit by a pitch, Bradley reached on an error and Austin Motz (Crawfordsville Class of 2022) walked to lead the bases before Stuteville got a strikeout and fly-out to end the threat.
“Our pitcher got squared away,” said Haaf. “Then we made some plays and began to hit the ball a little bit.”
Rockport went down 1-2-3 against Southern in the fourth with swinging strikeout, pop-up and looking strikeout.
Post 72 sent four batters to the plate against Stuteville in a score-free fourth and left Braun at first base following a two-out single to left.
Rockport went scorless against Southern in the third.
Crawfordsville turned a double play for the first two outs — shortstop Gregg to sprawling first baseman Walker.
The inning ended when Crawfordsville left fielder Ficther took away a hit from Diond’re Jacob (Tell City Class of 2021). Fichter made a dive and catch heading toward the fence.
Crawfordsville went down in order against Stuteville in the third with a fly-out, groundout and strikeout.
Post 254 went up 3-1 with two runs in the second.
Wes Scamehorn (Perry Central Class of 2021) drew a lead-off walk and scored on a two-run home run by Houston Compton (South Spencer Class of 2022).
The blast to left came on a 3-2 delivery from Southern that concluded an at-bat where Compton fouled off three pitches.
Post 72 pulled even at 1-1 with a run against Stuteville in the second.
Braun lashed a lead-off double to left, moved to second on a single to left by Walker and scored on a fielder’s choice forceout by Harris.
The frame ended with Rockville catcher Raaf firing to second baseman Johnson to cut down Harris attempting to steal.
Rockport scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first.
Raaf drew a one-out walk from Southern and later scored on a single to center by Davis.
Southern struck out the side in Crawfordsville first.
Crawfordsville’s roster was full of older players so Proctor expects a different look next summer.
“We scout in the spring and see which players can join us,” says Proctor. “We play for everything. (Players) don’t pay anything.”
Indiana crowned its first American Legion Baseball state champion in 1926.

INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION
SENIOR STATE FINALS
(At Kokomo)

Championship
ROCKPORT POST 254 4,
CRAWFORDSVILLE POST 72 2

Crawfordsville 010 000 1 — 2 6 2
Rockport 120 001 x — 4 7 1
Landen Southern (L), Drew Bradley (6); Jake Stuteville (W), Reece Davis (7, S).
Crawfordsville: Hits — Jacob Braun 3, Owen Gregg 1, George Valencia 1, Cade Walker 1. 2B — Braun. RBI — Valencia 1, Matthew Harris 1. Runs — Braun, Bradley. LOB — 8.
Rockport: Hits — Davis 3, Bren Miller 2, Jackson Raaf 1, Houston Compton 1. HR — Compton. 2B — Davis. RBI — Compton 2, Davis 1, Ashton Tindle 1. Runs — Raaf 1, Compton 1, Miller 1, Wes Scamahorn 1. SB — Davis, Jalen Johnson. LOB — 5. T — 2:08.
Records: Rockport 21-11, Crawfordsville 20-12.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2021 Indiana American Legion Baseball state title in the senior division. (Steve Krah Photo)

Rockport, Crawfordsville to clash for Indiana American Legion state title

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rockport Post 254 and Crawfordsville Post 72 earned the right to clash for the title at the Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State Finals with semifinal victories Monday, July 26 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Rockport (19-7 overall and 4-0 in the State Finals) came out of the winners’ bracket in the double-elimination event with a 10-7 win against Kokomo Post 6 (13-16-1) in Game 13.
Crawfordsville (20-11, 3-1) emerged from the losers’ bracket with a 9-5 triumph against Newburgh Post 44 (19-8) in Game 12.
Post 254 and Post 72 play at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 27. Crawfordsville needs to win twice to take the championship and a Great Lakes Regional berth.
Rockport will be seeking its 11th state Senior Legion title and first since 2017 while Crawfordsville will go for its first crown. The tournament dates back to 1926.
The 2021 Senior State Finals also featured Muncie Post 19, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Semifinals
Rockport Post 254 10,
Kokomo Post 6 7

Scoring three runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, Rockport snapped a 7-7 tie with a one-out run-scoring single to left field by 2021 Tell City High School graduate Wes Scamahorn that plated Jackson Raaf (South Spencer Class of 2022).
“It was one of those days when we were having a hard time getting inspired,” said Rockport manager Jim Haaf. “(Ashton Tindle’s deep, running) catch in the center field (in the sixth inning) got us going a little bit.
(Right-hander and 2021 Kokomo graduate Mason Keller) was pretty good with his breaking pitch today and that gave us a lot of trouble.”
A balk allowed Diond’re Jacob (Tell City Class of 2021) to tally Post 254’s ninth run and a sacrifice fly by Houston Compton (South Spencer Class of 2022) pushed across the 10th.
Leading Rockport’s 12-hit attack were Compton with three, Jacob, Tindle (South Spencer Class of 2022) and Jake Stuteville (South Spencer Class of 20210 with two each. Compton drove in three runs and Stuteville knocked home two. Jacob scored three runs while Scamahorn and Compton crossed the plate two times each.
Tanner Jennings (Tell City Class of 2022) pitched the last three innings and earned the victory. The right-hander gave up two runs and three hits while striking out three.
“We save some pitching for (Tuesday),” said Haaf. “We managed to keep it close.”
Kokomo, which led 5-1 after its first four at-bats, got three hits from Cameron Arcari (Eastern Class of 2021) and two from losing pitcher Jace Stoops (Twin Lakes Class of 2020) as well has two RBIs from Jacob Ward (Kokomo Class of 2021) and two runs scored from both Stoops and Taylor Duncan (Kokomo Class of 2021).
“We are more than tickled to be in the final three teams in the state,” said Post 6 manager Don Andrews. “I’ve been involved with Legion baseball since 2004 and this is the first time I can remember a team with a losing record in the Final Four, let alone the Final Three.”

Crawfordsville Post 72 9,
Newburgh Post 44 5

Post 72 broke a 4-4 deadlock with two runs in the top of the fourth inning and added two more in the sixth and one in the seventh.
A solo home run over the 25-foot high right field fence by Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie Class of 2021) put Crawfordsville ahead 5-4.
“We hit the ball well,” said Post 72 manager Kyle Proctor.
In the two-run sixth, George Valencia (Fountain Central Class of 2020 socked a two-run homer to right-center — just to the left of the high part of the wall.
Southern finished with four hits while Cade Walker (Seeger Class of 2021) had two and Valencia and Jacob Braun (North Montgomery Class of 2021) two apiece. Valencia drove in three and Braun 2. Southern scored three runs while Valencia and Braun tallied two apiece.
Winning pitcher Henry Taylor (Crawfordsville Class of 2021) went the first six innings. The right-hander whiffed three and walked three while yielding six hits and four runs.
Six different Newburgh players produced hits. Zach York (Evansville Harrison Class of 2022) lashed a two-run double left during a four-run uprising in the third inning. Losing pitcher David Schultz (Harrison Class of 2021) cracked a two-run single to center on the very next pitch.
“It was an awesome experience considering where we came from,” said Newburgh manager Joe Paulin.
After the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season and the previous coaching staff departed, it was a brand new team and staff for Newburgh in 2021.
“We started from scratch,” said Paulin. “We had tryouts and kept all 12 players. A lot of those guys didn’t even know each others’ names at the beginning of the season. Here we are tied for third in the state.”
Post 44 placed third behind Evansville Pate Post 265 and Terre Haute Post 346 in this year’s Junior State Finals.

INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION
SENIOR STATE FINALS
(At Kokomo)
Semifinals
(Losers’ Bracket)
CRAWFORDSVILLE POST 72 9,
NEWBURGH POST 44 5

Crawfordsville 004 202 1 — 9 14 2
Newburgh 004 000 1 — 5 6 1
Henry Taylor (W), Austin Motz (7); Hunter Lindsey, David Schultz (3, L), Evan Doan (7).
Crawfordsville: Hits — Landen Southern 4, Cade Walker 3, George Valencia 2, Jacob Braun 2, Taylor 1, Owen Gregg 1, Matthew Harris 1. HR — Southern, Valencia. RBI — Valencia 3, Braun 2, Southern 1, Taylor 1, Walker 1. Runs — Southern 3, Valencia 2, Braun 2, Gregg 1, Zach Fichter 1. SB — Valencia 1, Braun 1, Fichter 1. LOB — 9.
Newburgh: Hits — Schutlz 1, Lindsey 1, Evan Doan 1, Zach York 1, Logan Thomas 1, Keaton Holmes 1. 2B — York. RBI — York 2, Schultz 2. SB — Schultz 1. LOB — 7. T — 2:07.
Records: Crawfordsville 20-11, Newburgh 19-8.

(Winners’ Bracket)
ROCKPORT POST 254 10,
KOKOMO POST 6 7

Kokomo 031 120 0 7 9 2
Rockport 010 333 x — 10 12 4
Spencer Sandage, Tanner Jennings (5, W); Mason Keller, Avery Fields (5), Jace Stoops (6, L).
Kokomo: Hits — Cameron Arcari 3, Stoops 2, Kendall Lanning 1, Taylor Duncan 1, Drew Servies 1, Jacob Ward 1. 2B — Stoops 1, Arcari 1. RBI — Ward 2, Stoops 1, Servies 1, Isaac Guffey 1. Runs — Duncan 2, Lanning 1, Stoops 1, Arcari 1, Servies 1, Austin Robinson 1. SB — Servies 3. LOB — 7.
Rockport: Hits — Houston Compton 3, Diond’re Jacob 2, Ashton Tindle 2, Jake Stuteville 2, Jackson Raaf 1, Wes Scamahorn 1, Noah Brunner 1. RBI — Compton 3, Stuteville 2, Scamahorn 1, Tindle 1, Brunner 1. Runs — Jacob 3, Scamahorn 2, Compton 2, Raaf 1, Tindle 1, Brunner 1. 2B — Brunner. LOB — 6. T — 2:19.
Records: Rockport 19-7, Kokomo 13-16-1.

Tournament Results
Game 1: Newburgh Post 44 7, South Bend Post 151 0, forfeit.
Game 2: Crawfordsville Post 72 4, Muncie Post 19 2.
Game 3: Rockport Post 254 2, Valparaiso Post 94 0.
Game 4: Kokomo Post 6 9, South Haven Post 502 3.
Game 5: Valparaiso Post 94 7, Soutn Bend Post 151 0, forfeit.
Game 6: South Haven Post 502 12, Muncie Post 19 9.
Game 7: Rockport Post 254 4, Newburgh Post 44 3.
Game 8: Crawfordsville Post 72 10, Kokomo Post 6 4.
Game 9: Newburgh Post 44 6, South Haven Post 502 5.
Game 10: Kokomo Post 6 4, South Haven Post 502 3.
Game 11: Rockport Post 254 9, Crawfordsville Post 72 3.
Game 12 (Semifinals — Losers’ Bracket): Crawfordsville Post 72 9, Newburgh Post 44 5.
Game 13 (Semifinals — Winners’ Bracket): Rockport Post 254 10, Kokomo Post 6 7.
Game 14 (Championship): Crawfordsville Post 72 vs. Rockport Post 254 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 27.
Game 15 (Second championship): If necessary, following Game 14.

Indiana American Legion State Finals July 23-27 in Kokomo

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eight teams from around the state will vie for the 2021 Indiana American Legion Baseball Senior State championship Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at CFD Investment Stadium at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Teams in the field will be Crawfordsville Post 72, Kokomo Post 6, Muncie Post 19, Newburgh Post 44, Rockport Post 254, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 and Valparaiso Post 94.
The double-elimination event begins with four games Friday and continues with four contests Saturday, three Sunday, two Monday and two (if necessary) Tuesday.

2021 INDIANA AMERICAN LEGION
SENIOR STATE FINALS
(At Highland Park, Kokomo)
Friday, July 23
Game 1: South Bend Post 151 vs. Newburgh Post 44, 11 a.m.
Game 2: Muncie Post 19 vs. Crawfordsville Post 72, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: Rockport Post 254 vs. Valparaiso Post 94, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: South Haven Post 502 vs. Kokomo Post 6, 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 24
Game 5: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 3 Loser, 11 a.m.
Game 6: Game 2 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 4:30 p.m.
Game 8: Game 2 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 25
Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 10: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 8 Loser, 3:30 p.m.
Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 6 p.m.
Monday, July 26
Game 12: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 11 Loser, 1 p.m.
Game 13: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner, 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 27
Game 14 (Championship: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 13 Winner, 1 p.m.
Game 15 (If necessary): Second championship game following Game 14.

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Dix ‘walks in his purpose’ with Region Legion Expos, Calumet New Tech

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ray Dix III is using baseball and education to help youngsters in northwest Indiana.
A 2001 Merrillville High School graduate and former East Chicago American Legion Post 369 player, Dix guides to diamond programs for the Region Legion Expos (E.C. Post 369/Lake Station Post 100) and Calumet New Tech High School in Gary.
“Post 369 is near and dear to my heart,” says Dix. “Bob Castillo, (father) Alonzo Olvera and (son) Juan Olvera kept it going for a long time.”
Dix expresses his gratitude to the late Joe Kusiak.
“My organization does not exist without Joe,” says Dix of the man who died in 2019. “He made it his personal mission to make sure some inner city kids got the same opportunities as suburban kids.”
The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost.
“We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.”
Dix notes that there was an Chamber of Commerce event with Gary native and former big leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins.
Initiatives by the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Home Field Advantage and MLB’s Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) were gaining traction before the pandemic.
The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost.
“We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.”
The 2021 season marks the fifth for the Region Legion Expos and there are senior (19U) and junior (17U) squads. While recent rains have taken games away, both teams scheduled around 20 regular-season games.
Most senior games have been played at the Kenny Lofton Baseball Complex in East Chicago with junior games at the former Lake Station Little League.
In the future, Dix expects that the Region Legion Expos will play home games at Calumet New Tech (the field was built on the campus just a few years ago) and renovated E.J. Block Stadium in East Chicago. Tim Stoddard played for Post 369 and East Chicago Washington High School (later consolidated into East Chicago Central) at Block on his way to the majors.
RLE are in the Michiana League along with Bristol Post 143, Highland Post 80, South Bend Post 151 and Valparaiso Post 94 in Indiana, Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204 in Michigan and Palos Park Post 1993 in Illinois.
“We hope to grow the league,” says Dix, who is assisted by East Chicago Central High School head coach Jimmy Flores. “We stay away from days that Babe Ruth games are scheduled to give kids more chances to play baseball.”
The plan is for league coaches to meet this fall to map out an even larger schedule for next season.
“We hope to get more Legion teams,” says Dix. “We’re growing every year. We have more junior teams.
“When I played 20 years ago almost everybody had a Legion team. It’s great competition. We don’t see a bad team all summer. Nobody’s bad. That’s what I love about it.”
The 2021 junior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Post 100 Region Riptide, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is scheduled for July 8-11 at Hobart.
The senior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Highland Post 80, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is slated for July 15-18 at Highland.
While the COVID-19 pandemic took away what was going to be Dix’s first season at Calumet in the spring of 2020, the Legion team had an abbreviated season without a state tournament last summer.
“We were wiping down everything,” says Dix. “We had no (COVID) cases.”
The ’21 Calumet New Tech Warriors had 15 players on the roster. Dix was assisted by former Gary Roosevelt and Bowman Academy head coach Kevin Bradley (who had Dix as an assistant at Bowman) plus Daniel Wendrickx and scorekeeper Steve Heck.
This week after the Region Legion Expos played Palos Heights the two sides went through an actual handshake line — something not allowed during the high school season in the spring though teams tipped their caps at the end of games.
“I didn’t know how much I missed the handshake line,” says Dix. “We show each other respect for what you just went through.
“Even at the MLB level, guys shake hands with (their teammates).”
The Region Legion Expos have sent Gary West graduates Antonio Reed (Clark Atlanta University) and Zamare Vincent (Calumet College of Saint Joseph), Merrillville alums Thomas Butler (Ancilla College and University of Indianapolis), Darius Kendall (Purdue University Northwest) and Thomas Smith (Bethel University) and Portage grads Shayne Devine (Trine University) and Kody McGuire (Goshen College) on to college baseball while Christian Ayala (Hammond Bishop Noll) and Dylan Coty (Merrillville baseball and basketball) have received offers.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some talented players,” says Dix, who has watched others stay out of trouble, go on to trade schools and become productive citizens.
Dix, son of former Gary and current Fort Wayne minister Ray Dix Jr., and retired secretary Jewel Cody and grandson of former steelworker and court bailiff Ray Dix Sr., makes sure players are making their grades and get SAT preparation assistance.
He is three semesters from his education degree, which he will likely complete at Purdue University Northwest.
“If I get to teach high school and coach baseball I will not work for the rest of my life,” says Dix. “I will be walking in my purpose and be forever grateful.”
Dix says area youth coaches and organizers at all levels try to stick to together for the good of the kids.
“The goal to always have a safe space,” says Dix. “We all see the writing on the wall.
“We don’t want to see it die.”
It’s people like Bentley Ellis at Glenn Park Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken in Gary and Tracy Brough, president of Calumet Region Little League, which in 2021 included Duneland Park, Lake Station and Roosevelt Park and had about 150 players at all ages. Bradley, Ellis and Brough are on the CRLL board.
“We’re a feeder group for American Legion ball,” says Brough. “Players age out of Little League (4 to 16) and can keep playing.”
During the offseason, a group called the Gary United Baseball Collaborative was formed to meet in the offseason and discuss options for area youth.
“We see how can we increase the opportunities for kids with their skill levels, training and experiences,” says Brough. “We cross-post (on social media) and communicate in the offseason so (players and their families) know what’s going on.”
At Merrillville High, Dix played two seasons for Fenton Macke and two for Zac Wells.
“Other than with Coach Castillo, I have not learned more on the mental side of baseball than I did in the few conversations I had with Coach Macke,” says Dix. “He had an amazing way of getting young people to think the game. This is how you stay in the lineup.
“That is what you want once you get to the high school level and beyond. You find your niche and work it and that trickles to life. That stuck with me as a 14-year-old kid.”
Dix admires Macke and current Washington Township head baseball coach Randy Roberts — men who know what its like to each at the middle school level and coach high schoolers.
“If you have them from sixth grade on, they already know what you want (in high school),” says Dix, who plans add a middle school baseball at Calumet in the fall. “They know the style.
“Everything is about relationship-building.”
Wells, who also coached Ray’s little brother Rahdric Dix (Merrillville Class of 2007 who went on to play at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana), was a three-sport start for the Pirates who had the ability to break down the intricacies of an athletic task.
“Absolute tactician,” says Dix of Wells. “He had that Innate ability to show you the technical part of the game.
“I use his hitting methods to this day.”
Rahdric was Ray III’s first trainee and he’s had many since. Dix indicates that he would like to eventually be able to direct a program that includes players as young as 8.
“It’s about being able to create uniformity and consistency,” says Dix.

Ray Dix III (left) celebrates a Region Legion championship with his team.
Ray Dix III, Gary Chamber of Commerce president Chuck Hughes and former big league pitcher LaTroy Hawkins appear at a Chamber event prior to Gary native Hawkins being inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Baseball organizers in northwest Indiana collaborate as evidenced by Calumet Area Little League president Tracy Brough (left) and Region Legion Expos manager and Calumet New Tech High School head coach Ray Dix III.
Ray Dix III at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., home of the indepedent pro baseball Gary SouthShore RailCats. He is the manager of the Region Legion Expos and head coach at Calumet New Tech High School.

Valparaiso Post 94 fielding two American Legion teams in ’21

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Valparaiso Post 94 is doing its part to keep American Legion Baseball in Indiana thriving.
In 2021, Post 94 counts Wayne Coil as Senior team field manager and Dan Sherman in the role of general manager/director of operations. Brian Niksch is head coach of the Valpo Juniors.
“We’re hanging in there,” says Sherman, who has been involved with the Valpo program for almost 10 years. Son Jake Sherman, a 2017 Andrean High School graduate, played for Charles Pratt Post 94. “Last year with the (COVID-19) pandemic and Indiana American Legion shutting down (its tournament series) hurt.
“We’re probably down 10 teams in Indiana (which fields 19U senior and 17U junior squads). The strongest programs are in Rockport (Post 254), Terre Haute (Post 346) and Kokomo (Post 6).”
As Post 94 GM/Director of Ops, Sherman helps raise funds, orders equipment and sets schedules. He’s even filled in as an umpire.
Artificial turf is going in at Valparaiso High School. That means that the VHS Vikings were “Road Warriors” (Senior Night was held at Valparaiso University) in the spring and the Post 94 is playing an all-away schedule.
Featuring many recent Valparaiso High graduates from the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional champions, the Senior team plays American Legion and a few travel teams. Most games are within a 60-mile radius of Valpo.
In Indiana, there’s Crawfordsville Post 72, East Chicago Post 100/369, Highland Post 180, Hobart Post 502, Kokomo Post 6, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 (the Blaze is based in Hobart and draws high school players from Hobart, Portage, Boone Grove, Wheeler and River Forest) and, possibly, Bristol Post 143.
Michigan Legion opponents include Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204. There’s even Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300.
Valpo, which has a Senior (19U) and Junior (17U) squad, has or will see the Midwest Rockets, Morris Chiefs, Northwest Indiana Shockers and two Indiana Playmakers squads.
There will be regionals at sites to be determined for Senior and Junior teams. Junior regionals are July 8-11 with the State Finals July 15-18 at Terre Haute. Senior regionals are July 15-18 with the State Finals July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo. The 94th American Legion Baseball World Series is slated for Aug. 12-17 in Shelby, N.C.
Valpo placed third in the 2019 senior tournament staged in Rockport, Ind.
“They play on bluegrass,” says Sherman of Joe Hargis Field, which Post 254 shares with South Spencer High School. “An army of guys to do maintenance and there’s covered stands.
“It’s top quality.”
Sherman, a former teacher and coach and a longtime attorney, played baseball at South Haven (Mich.) High School and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., then until age 29 in an adult league.
He has an affinity for promoting amateur baseball and particularly likes the American Legion brand.
“Baseball has almost become an elitist sport for some that have the money,” says Sherman. “ $250 donation (per player) pays for everything.
“A big part of promoting baseball is having good facilities that are fan-friendly.”
When the Post 94 Seniors traveled to River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich., Thursday, June 16 to play the Post 204 Oakers he knew that J.C. German and son Jason German would have the field prepped and fans would be there to cheer.
Coil, a music teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso who joined the Post 94 coaching staff in 2018, also coaches the junior varsity at Valpo High under varsity head coach Todd Evans, who encourages all his Vikings to play Legion ball in the summer.
One of Wayne’s sons, Alex Coil (VHS Class of 2018), played for Post 94 as well as the Northwest Indiana Rippers in the Babe Ruth World Series.
A broadcast intern this summer with the independent professional Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls, Alex is heading into his senior year in Sports Journalism at Arizona State University.
Nolan Coil, another of Wayne’s sons and a 2021 Valpo graduate heading to Calvin University in Grand Rapids to study and play baseball, is on the current Post 94 Senior squad. Four other Post 94 players — Nick Koprcina (Calvin), Kyle Lawrence (Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio), Jake Nightingale (Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.) and Lucas Siewin (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) — are headed to college baseball programs in the fall.
The Post 94 Senior roster also includes Josh Brinson, Nate Guzek, Adler Hazlett, Erik Kallen, Matt Levenda, Matt Nightingale, Chris Rahn and Griffey Zborowski.
Three 2021 Valpo grads who have made college commitments not playing Legion ball this summer are Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and North/South All-Star Series selection Grant Comstock (Northwestern University), Ty Gill (Purdue University), Carter Kosiara (North Central College in Naperville, Ill.) and Elan Reid (Manchester University).
“I like the competition (of American Legion Baseball),” says Wayne Coil. “Many players have just finished their first year of college (at the senior level). The pitching is usually excellence.
“The distance to travel and expense is less than when my boys were in travel ball. We get to know the (other Legion) coaches a lot better. They are all volunteering their time. It’s a bunch of great guys.”
Coil sees Legion ball making a comeback.
“The enthusiasm is greater for it,” says Coil. “If only more high school coaches would become aware of what American Legion is all about.”
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gene Bottorff was infielder/pitcher Coil’s coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School.
“He was a great mentor,’’ says 1984 MCHS graduate Coil of Bottorff. “My older brother (Class of ’82’s Neal Coil) and I learned quite a bit from him.”
Wayne Coil graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and played in a summer baseball league after college.
Niksch, a 1997 Valpo High graduate, is the freshmen baseball coach and a business teacher at VHS as well as an IHSAA-licensed umpire. Son Jake Niksch (Class of 2023) has played for the Post 94 Juniors and Seniors this summer.
While most Post 94 Juniors players go to Valpo High, New Prairie, Portage and South Central (Union Mills) are also represented on a 14-player roster.

Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 in 2020 after a road game against Bristol Post 143.
Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 with coach Dan Sherman at the 2019 State Finals in Rockport, Ind.
Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 players prepare for a 2019 State Finals game in Rockport, Ind.
Nick Caputo (Valparaiso High School Class of 2018) bats for Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 during the 2017 State Finals in Terre Haute. Dan Sherman is in the third base coach’s box.
Nolan Coil (Valparaiso Class of 2021) delivers a pitch for Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 during the 2020 CB Memorial Tournament in Stevensville, Mich.

COVID-19 concerns cause Indiana, national officials to cancel American Legion Baseball, other events

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the first time in generations, there will not be an Indiana or national American Legion Baseball tournament.

Because of concerns with the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, officials have decided to call off 2020 events.

“It’s definite,” says John Hayes, a member of Indiana and national Legion baseball committees. “We’ve canceled the World Series (in Shelby, N.C.) and national regionals. I’ve talked with (state baseball chairman) Owen Wells and we’ve closed up the state of Indiana.

“It’s something we thought long and hard about. It was the right thing to do. This virus thing is not worth taking a chance especially since we don’t know how it’s going to last.”

Hayes says at least five states had shut down Legion baseball for 2020 before the national decision.

An early call was also made since the national organization had already began its fundraising efforts and it purchases plane tickets for regional qualifiers.

While many teams had not yet registered, Hayes estimates there might have been more than 30 senior (19U) teams in Indiana this year with a smaller number of junior (17U) squads.

Some teams had already paid for state tournament and insurance and will now wait for refunds.

Wells, who is based at Rockport Post 254, notes that American Legion Baseball began its national tournament in 1925 and has hosted an event every year since 1927.

Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346, which is managed by Tim Hayes (brother of John), was state tournament runner-up in 2017 and won the state title in both 2018 and 2019.

“We hate it for the kids. We hate it for the program,” says John Hayes. “But if this is the worse thing that ever happens to them, they’ll have a good life.”

Kokomo Post 6 was set to host the 2020 state tournament at Highland Park Stadium and will now host the 2021 event.

“I’m disappointed, but I was expecting it,” says Post 6 manager Don Andrews of the cancellation. “It’s the smart thing to do.

“We could still play travel baseball, but we certainly won’t do that if it’s not safe.”

Andrews notes that his players had already completed fundraising.

In case they would get a chance to play, he is advising them to throw the baseball three of more times a week.

“The most important thing is to keep your arm in shape,” says Andrews. “Everything else they can pick up quickly.”

Kevin Zvokel is the manager for the Muncie Post 19 Chiefs.

“I really feel bad for the players who had already lost their high school and college seasons, especially the seniors who missed an opportunity for a final season of baseball with their friends,” says Zvokel. “In the end, the No. 1 concern is safety for our players, coaches and fans.

“Hopefully things clear and we can still get some baseball in this summer.”

Jill Druskis, Director of the Americanism Division of the American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis, says that national capstone American Legion youth programs are National Oratorical Contest, eight Baseball regional tournaments, Baseball World Series, Boys Nation and the shoulder-to-shoulder match of the Junior Shooting 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship. 

Besides baseball, oratorical, Hoosier Boys State, Boys Nation and national air rifle contests have been canceled. Girls State and Girls Nation are run by American Legion Auxiliary.

“And the awarding of one of our national youth program scholarships has been affected this year as well,” says Druskis. “It is through the Boys State and Girls State programs that youth are afforded eligibility to apply for a Samsung American Legion Scholarship.

“Many Boys State and Girl State delegates did not pursue their application for the 2020 Samsung American Legion Scholarship as a result of their respective Boys State and Girls State program being canceled.”

National Commander of The American Legion James William “Bill” Oxford provides daily updates at this link.

AMERICANLEGIONBASEBALL

2019 Top Baseball Stories Out of Indiana

EPISODE 1: Little League
Featuring coaches from both teams in 2019 Indiana Major Division Little League championship.

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EPISODE 2: High School
Featuring Brian Jennings, Head coach, Griffith High School and announcer for 2019 IHSAA State Finals in baseball.

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EPISODE 3: American Legion
Featuring Timothy Hayes, Manager, 2019 Indiana District Champion Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346.

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EPISODE 4: Travel Baseball
Featuring Bill Sampen, former pitcher for Montreal Expos and co-founder of Indiana Expos travel baseball organization.

____________________________________
EPISODE 5: South Bend Cubs
Featuring Joe Hart, President, South Bend Cubs.

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EPISODE 6: Indianapolis Indians
Featuring Cheyne Reiter, Director of Communications, Indianapolis Indians.

____________________________________
EPISODE 7: The Base Indianapolis
Featuring Rob Barber, Executive Director, The Base Indianapolis.

____________________________________
EPISODE 8: College & MLB
Featuring Steve Krah, veteran sportswriter, founder IndianaRBI.com.

Team chemistry counts for plenty with Kokomo Post 6 baseball manager Andrews

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don Andrews wants to fill his Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team with talented players.

But playing ability is not the first priority for the man who enters his eighth season as senior team manager in 2018 after serving as an assistant and with Post 6’s junior squad.

“Team chemistry is more important than talent,” says Andrews. “It’s something we work really hard at.

“We’re finding out what the dynamics of the team are going to be. I go to a high school baseball game in the spring almost every night. I’m watching the players and also watching the parents.

“By the time (open) tryouts come around (in August) we almost know who we want (for the following year).”

Through his observations and conversations, Andrews will invite desired players to the tryout. He wants kids with a high baseball I.Q.

But — again — there’s more than that.

“A big basis of what we do is try to find high character kids,” says Andrews. “It’s a long, hot summer so we want to have good kids.”

Andrews normally goes through the regular season with about 15 or 16 players and adds a few worthy juniors at the end of the summer.

Post 6 plays around 35 games before the regional. This year, the regular season opens June 4 and closes July 10.

The Kokomo Summer Classic at Highland Park Stadium is slated for June 15-17.

Andrews estimates that 70 percent of Post 6’s games are at Highland Park.

“Everybody loves to play on that field,” says Andrews. “The parks department does a great job of keeping it up.”

Then there’s the dimesions.

“We have a big home field advantage,” says Andrews, eluding to the short distance down the right field line with a high fence. “We know we’ve just got to play. We don’t worry about hitting it over that fence.”

Meanwhile, left-handed batters on opposing teams are practically drooling when they see that short porch.

Kokomo has realized plenty of Legion diamond success in recent years.

The Sixers won regional titles in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sectionals were eliminated in 2014, but Kokomo won a few of those on Andrews’ watch.

The Indiana American Legion State Finals rotates from north to south each year with teams bidding for the rights to host.

Kokomo hosted in 2016 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and will do so again this year at Highland Park. The eight-team event (seven regional champions plus the host) is scheduled for July 27-31 (the Kokomo Regional is July 20-22).

The Great Lakes Regional Aug. 8-12 in Napoleon, Ohio, with the American Legion World Series Aug. 16-21 in Shelby, N.C.

Rockport Post 254 won the 2017 state championship in a tournament hosted by Terre Haute Post 346.

While the deadline for entries is still open, Andrews expects there to be up to 32 senior teams in Indiana this year and maybe a dozen or so junior (17U) squads.

Kokomo will also host junior regional and state finals at Highland Park and Northwestern High School July 13-15 and July 19-22, respectively.

Post 6 will take its senior players in 2018 from the following high schools: Kokomo, Northwestern, Western, Taylor, and Logansport.

Junior players come from those those schools plus Oak Hill, Sheridan and Tri-Central.

In some years, the Sixers had players from Eastern, Lewis Cass and Peru.

American Legion Baseball has been a tradition in Indiana since 1926. Legion ball thrives in many corners of the state.

While many Legion rules mimic those of Major League Baseball, the national organization voted not to adopt mound visit restrictions now used by MLB.

Andrews began his coaching career when son Reid was 5 and playing T-ball at Russiaville Little League. Andrews, with the help of Dan Weaver, followed his son up the line, including four years of travel baseball — three with the Bullpen Aces and one with the Central Indiana Kings — and summers with Kokomo Post 6.

Besides bench coach Weaver, Andrews is helped with his Sixers by third base coach Will Harris and first base coach Dave Takacs.

Reid Andrews, a graduate of Western High School and Purdue University, is now general at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield and an assistant to head baseball coach Chris Estep at University High School in Carmel.

The Andrews family is full of coaches. Don’s wife Deb Andrews is a boys and girls swimming assistant coach at Western High.

Daughter Rae Andrews, an Indiana University graduate, is a swim coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester (N.Y.).

Don Andrews, a 1977 Northwestern High School graduate, played a few years of prep baseball then discovered a talent for running and turned to track and field and cross country.

He was on the track team at Purdue when he was struck by a vehicle during a November training run. A few years later, he was on the cross country and track teams at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and coached the sports during and after college.

Andrews now works at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles transmission plant in Kokomo.

DONANDREWS

Don Andrews is manager of the Kokomo (Ind.) American Legion Post 6 baseball team. The Sixers is scheduled to open the 2018 season June 4. Post 6 will also host regionals and state finals for both junior and senior divisions.

Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

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South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.