Tag Archives: Bristol Post 143

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.

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.

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

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Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)