American Legion baseball making a come back

Published 7:00 am Friday, January 24, 2020

American Legion baseball provided athletes with an economic way to play baseball outside of their high school’s program before the days of travel ball and expensive showcase baseball teams.  However, Timmy Craft said the rise of tournament teams led to Legion baseball taking a hit as more players and their families decided to shell out the thousands of dollars necessary to be part of a travel ball team.

That all could be changing with the decision to bring Legion baseball back to the Southern Mississippi.

Pearl River Central’s Baseball Coach Neil Walther got American Legion Post 73 in Picayune to serve as the team’s sponsor. Along with a board made up of Craft, Greg Mitchell and Eli Ouder, Legion baseball is making a come back in a big way.

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Legion baseball will take place during the months of June and July, lasting five to six weeks. The reason for this is that it will allow players from high school programs to continue playing after the high school season has ended.

The team will play against other nearby Legion teams from Mississippi and Louisiana.

Players will be drawn from Picayune Memorial High School, Pearl River Central High School, Poplarville High School, Stone County High School, Hancock High School and Bay High School with the possibility of more schools being added to the list as time goes on.

The grueling schedule and expensive nature of travel ball is what inspired Walther to bring Legion baseball back.

There is junior Legion baseball, which will consist of mostly ninth and tenth grade players and senior Legion baseball, which will mostly include 11th and 12th grade athletes. Not only does Legion baseball serve as an economic alternative to travel ball, but it will also give players from high school programs more opportunities to be scouted. “We’ve got a strong baseball heritage here and this is going to allow our kids the opportunity to be seen at the next level,” Craft said. Athletes who could be chosen for the local Legion team may come from rival high schools, but under the umbrella of Legion baseball those differences disappear.

Coaches whose jobs focus on beating each other come together to guide the players.

Craft said that coaches setting differences aside for the sake of the athletes is what makes the organization so special. “You’ve got all these guys who are supposed to be rivals, but they’re all such good friends and all willing to work with everybody’s kids. What we have here is a unique group of guys who love baseball and love kids,” Craft said.

Craft hopes that Legion baseball will get back to where it once was with teams from all over the state competing against one another.

To get there, the new team will have to be successful so other people around the state notice and decide to start their own teams.

Until then, Craft said Legion baseball in the area would strive to provide athletes with a way to continue playing the sport they love at the fraction of the cost that they might otherwise.

“Now the kids are here and playing against each other, so now we’re promoting baseball across the state of Mississippi. We’re growing it and that’s what we want to do,” Craft said. If anyone is interested in joining the team or assisting the team contact Timmy Craft at 601-273-0649 or Neil Walther at 228-222-7286.