By DEVIN BATES
Sports Intern WSU 18
WESTFIELD – For many high school baseball players, the summer is an important time. After the local high school teams wrap up the spring season and schools are out for the summer, players often take their talents to other leagues to help hone in on their skills and get a few looks from college coaches. In the past, this often meant signing up for a legion team. These teams were often inexpensive, local, and offered athletes a place to play ball long into the summer season. So, what happened to these leagues? Well, they’re still around, but their numbers have taken a bit of a hit as they compete with another kind of baseball league.
In recent years, youth travel baseball leagues have seen a rise in participation, while legion numbers have been dwindling. Travel leagues offer athletes a unique experience. The fee to play is much higher than legion baseball, but the exposure to college coaches is generally more frequent. This has created a trend in which parents shell out hundreds of dollars to help their child’s baseball career, for results that some argue don’t add up to the hefty fee.
Kevin Wilby, head coach of Easthampton Legion Post 224’s baseball team, has noticed a palpable change in local youth baseball trends. “When I played about fifteen or so years ago, you played your high school season, then the summer in your local legion,” Wibly said. “I played legion up until 2005, I just started my first year as Easthampton’s legion coach.”
Wilby is among a growing group of legion coaches concerned that their teams are getting a bad rep for not offering the same bells and whistles that travel teams can. He’s trying to change that.
Recently, Wilby and Western Mass American Legion Baseball announced a new plan to help bring players back to legion baseball. On June 28, the league will host a Western Mass Legion Baseball Showcase, an opportunity for college coaches to come scout prospects as the best players in the league square off in an exhibition game. According to Wilby, the event is starting to gain significant traction.
“We started off by sending invitations to all of the local colleges… Westfield State, Elms, Springfield College,” Wilby said. “Now we’ve sent out invitations to every college in New England.”
The event will take place at Bullens Field at noon, with an extended batting practice and infield-outfield session so college coaches will be able to fully evaluate the prospects.
“They’ll have a pamphlet with each player’s contact information to that if they like what they see, they will be able to contact that player and his family to further discuss opportunities,” Wilby said.
According to Wilby, 35 college coaches have already responded. The event will look to bolster the league’s popularity as well as offer college coaches a new well of talent to scout from for upcoming seasons.
In addition to the showcase, the league has partnered with a video streaming service to film games throughout the state of Massachusetts this summer. This will give players an opportunity to purchase video of plate and pitching appearances, further advancing the league’s appeal to college prospects.
The American Legion season is set to open on June 8.