American Legion squads start tonight

Published 10:27 pm Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Friday evening, Suffolk will go from having no American Legion baseball teams to having two. At King’s Fork High School, Post 57 Suffolk will host Post 48 Phoebus; and at Nansemond River High, the Post 88 Nansemond Indians will host Post 49 Smithfield.

The Nansemond Indians, coached by Todd Eure, are a junior division team, with all players age 17 or younger. Suffolk, coached by Scott Holmes, is a senior level team, but not by much as Suffolk has just three players older than 17 as the team enters its schedule said Holmes.

Last spring and summer, Holmes headed up a Colt (ages 15-16) level team with Suffolk Youth Athletic Association with many of the same kids. The move into American Legion baseball is a step up in competition, said Holmes.

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Part of that is due to the rules American Legion uses compared to other leagues.

“It’s basically Major League Baseball rules,” said Holmes.

Games are nine innings. Unlike high school rules, there is no reentering of starting players once a substitute replaces them. Longer games, plus a maximum of 18 players on a roster, make it tougher on the players and coaches.

The competition is at a higher level thanks to the teams Suffolk and Nansemond will be facing, especially in Suffolk’s case in the senior division.

“It’s definitely going to be tough,” said Holmes, specifically mentioning a few of the teams Suffolk will face in District 3. Among those opposing teams is Menchville, which will have a majority of its players come from Menchville High School’s baseball team which has spent this spring steadily in the top 10 of national high school polls.

“What makes this so good is it gives the kids an opportunity to play a higher level than rec league. When you play these other posts, you’re playing other high school-caliber teams,” said Eure.

American Legion senior clubs can have players as old as 19, so come sides will have college players. On the Peninsula for instance, a Williamsburg team has players from Christopher Newport and Longwood.

Suffolk and Holmes won’t have collegiate players, which makes for an obvious challenge. “We want that higher level of play,” said Holmes.

“It’s good for our younger kids. We’ll have a few freshmen on the team, a couple guys from King’s Fork and one from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. We have a couple sophomores and quite a few juniors,” said Holmes.

“It’s my first year coaching an American Legion team and I’m looking forward to it,” said Holmes.

The Post 88 Nansemond Indians are in the junior division, with all players between 14-17, and in a similar district as Post 57. Nansemond opens Friday against visiting Smithfield and will meet squads ranging west to Williamsburg in its nine-team conference.

A majority of Nansemond team is from this spring’s JV team at Nansemond River, with some kids from other schools and some home-schooled kids, said Eure.

Specifically for the Nansemond River JV players, the decision to play American Legion ball this summer is already a good one.

“They were ecstatic when they found out they’d continue to play together,” said Eure.

“(The Nansemond River JV team) had a very successful season. I think they finished 16-3,” said Eure, “They had a really good season. They gel really well together and get along well, so being able to play 25-30 more games together is a good idea.”

State, regional and national tournaments await should either of the Suffolk teams make it that far. The Virginia State Tournament is set for July 27-Aug. 1 in Glen Allen.

American Legion baseball dates back to 1925 and each year since 1926, the American Legion World Series champion has been recognized at Major League Baseball’s World Series. According to the American Legion, 52 percent of MLB players and 70 percent of collegiate baseball players have played on American Legion teams.