Tag Archives: East Chicago Post 369

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.