By STEVE KRAH
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.
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.