It’s that time of the year again.
Fans will be flocking to Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field and other sites around the county for American Legion baseball.
Anyone familiar to the area knows that American Legion baseball games are special in this area, particularly in Washington.
Teams love to come to Washington to play at Ronsick Field because of the atmosphere, the concession stand, etc. Post 218 is able to fill up its schedule because of that.
It would seem that the Friday night home game promotion is returning once again this year. Fans really seemed to enjoy that as well.
Scott Forrester’s Post 218 Freshmen played for third place Tuesday in its own tournament after going 1-2 in the first three games.
Washington’s Memorial Day Weekend Junior Legion Tournament starts Friday. Phillip Kleekamp returns as the manager this season.
And Mike Gardner’s Post 218 Seniors will open Monday against House Springs.
There’s going to be a lot more to the area American Legion baseball scene this year as well.
Pacific Post 320 will be fielding three teams this year.
Cory Cowsert is the manager of the Post 320 Seniors and they start the season Saturday with Ninth District games against Warrenton (10 a.m.) and Elsberry (1 p.m.).
Joe Elking is the manager of the Post 320 Junior Legion program and Josh Cowsert runs the Post 320 Freshman team.
Union Post 297 rejoins the American Legion baseball program with a Junior Legion squad under Manager Ryan Bailey.
Sullivan Post 18 is fielding two teams at the Senior and Junior levels.
Under the guidance of Hansi Bloch, New Haven Post 366 will field teams at the Junior and Freshman levels.
At the Ninth District level, there are some changes.
The regular season will mean a bit more this year as only the top eight teams in each division will advance to the playoffs. That’s the same system which existed in the early ’90s and should eliminate the problem of teams which fold at the end of the regular season or heading into the playoffs.
A brief look at the Ninth District shows there are 10 Senior Legion, 12 Junior Legion and 11 Freshman Legion teams in the Ninth District this year.
Hannibal will be a part of the Ninth District once again at the Junior and Freshman levels, but not at the Senior level as it’s opting to play in the District 1-2 postseason event.
While there are some newcomers, some longtime programs are gone. O’Fallon, the Central Spartans and North Knights are not in the district this year.
But the return of Union, the expansion of Pacific and the addition of an Elsberry-Winfield Freshman Legion team have brought new blood into the district.
At the state level, Legion Representative Tom Schroeder reports a drop of 20 teams from last year statewide.
So, why is that the case?
Without having any case studies in front of me, I would suspect that drop has come for a variety of reasons.
Young athletes are being asked to specialize more and more these days. Kids who used to play the sport of the season are now concentrating on basketball, football, soccer, etc., during the summer months now rather than playing baseball.
And many of those who have chosen to compete in baseball play on select travel teams which hit showcase events around the nation in an attempt to find college homes for their players.
Some of the old rival leagues, such as SLABA and USSSA high school programs sap players and teams away from Legion ball as well, but it’s not at the levels it used to be and many of the folks who left the Legion realm after arguments with former state leaders. Most of those rifts have been mended now.
The Senior Legion Zone 1 Tournament will be held at Lindenwood University and hosted by West. Hannibal, Moberly, Chillicothe, Jefferson City, Fulton and Brookfield will be competing to join that field.
The state tournament returns to Sedalia this summer.
District 8 will host the Zone 1 Junior Legion Tournament with Jackson hosting the state tournament.
The Ninth District Tournament winner will advance to the state tournament in Washington. Post 218 also will have a spot in that field.
The Ninth District All-Star games are set for Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field as well this summer.