Where has the summer gone? It seems like only yesterday that schools let out and youth league softball and baseball programs opened their seasons. Now in the blink of an eye, the summer sun begins to fade and World Series time is at hand.
Just two weeks into August, most divisions of Little League Softball, Baseball, and Babe Ruth have wrapped up World Series play. However, the greatest little show on earth, the Little League World Series, and the patriarch of youth baseball, the American Legion World Series, are just beginning.
Today, in fact, the opening round of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania will feature four games broadcast live on ESPN, while the American Legion World Series is underway in Shelby, North Carolina with games televised on ESPNU.
While many youth league softball and baseball programs are still in their comparative infancies, American Legion Baseball is fast approaching its centennial. Inaugurated in 1925, the organization’s first World Series took place in 1926. In that historic encounter, Yonkers, New York defeated Pocatello, Idaho, in a single winner-take-all contest.
From the very start, American Legion Baseball has served as the prototype for the many diverse youth sports programs that followed. A springboard to the professional ranks, of the 329 members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, 81 launched their careers playing American Legion Baseball.
As both a former player and coach, our national pastime pulses through my veins. In my youth, I played baseball in Illinois, first in McHenry and later in Aurora. My heart still races when I think back to the first time I entered an American Legion Post.
Now as it was then, individual American Legion Posts sponsored local teams. Once teams had formed, players and coaches were invited to that particular post for a welcoming address from the post commander.
Stepping into the post, everywhere you looked were colorful flags and black and white photos of area soldiers from wars past and present, along with an array of glistening trophies and framed pictures of earlier teams. My heart continued to race as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
In his address, the commander first welcomed us to American Legion Baseball. Then he went on to explain the meaning of the program, the Post, and those who died in distant lands in defense of our country, many of whom were pictured on the walls around us. He finished with these simple words; “It was those who died and those who survived that made all this possible. Now their life’s work is in your hands.” If I live to be a 1,000, I’ll never forget those words.
From that day on, I never looked at a baseball or approached the game in the same way again. Whenever I stood on a pitching mound with the ball in my hand, or caught a glimpse of a flag, a soldier in uniform, or a legion baseball patch, I’m reminded of those words and their meaning. Even today, as my eyesight dims and my body fails, I hear them still.
American Legion Baseball is so much more than just a game. Just as generations of soldiers have served on our behalf, we too must continue to serve. Now more than ever, their life’s work is in our hands.