Tag Archives: South Bend American Legion Post 151

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.

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)