CEDAR RAPIDS — From virtually non-existent to flourishing.
There are seven American Legion baseball teams representing Metro high schools this spring. Teams representing Alburnett and Mount Vernon/Lisbon also are playing, as is one from Dubuque County.
This is a renaissance for an area that has a long and strong tradition of Legion ball. A local Hanford Post team that included eventual big league pitcher Mike Boddicker finished second to Yakima, Wash., at the 1975 American Legion World Series.
Another Cedar Rapids-based team went to the World Series in 1986.
“I think it’s great,” said John Konzen, who manages Swisher Post 671, a team of kids from Cedar Rapids Xavier. “The high school coaches got behind it, and that helped out. There really is nothing better than talking to all of the post commanders and officers. They are excited we are doing this.”
On Friday Swisher Post 671 is playing Hiawatha Legion Post 735’s senior Cedar Rapids Kennedy team on what they are calling Veterans Appreciation Night at Mount Mercy College’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex. It’s a 7 p.m. first pitch, with all proceeds from the game going to the two posts.
Hiawatha Legion Post 735 sponsors three teams: two from Kennedy and one from Cedar Rapids Washington. Kennedy senior team manager Todd Becker played on the 1986 World Series team and said he believes the reason for the explosion in local interest stems a lot from Johnston.
The Dragons varsity high school team won the Class 4A state championship in 2017, and a Legion team comprised of Johnston players, minus ace pitcher Jack Dreyer (now a freshman at the University of Iowa), advanced within one game of the World Series.
“I think the biggest thing was the coaches around here saw the success Johnson had,” Becker said. “This gives you a head start on the high school season ... It’s like spring training.”
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“There has been a clear track record of success for those squads playing competitive baseball together ahead of the normal high school windows,” said Mike Coleman, who helps coach Washington’s Legion team. “Nothing beats game reps and development of chemistry. As long as the Legion squad aligns with their associated school’s approach, it amounts to a jump start on the high school season.”
Legion teams have been practicing since February, though the brutal spring has played some havoc with their schedules. Kennedy and Linn-Mar have two Legion teams apiece, while Washington, Xavier and Cedar Rapids Jefferson have one each.
The Legion state tournament will be held in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City after the prep season concludes. July 30 through August 2. Games will be played at Mount Mercy, Coe, Cornell, Kirkwood and the University of Iowa, with the championship game scheduled for Veterans Memorial Stadium on the 2nd.
Right now, 14 teams have registered for the tournament. The winner advances to the regional tournament in South Dakota.
“All the posts do this with no expectations,” said Coleman, a former Washington pitcher and member of Hiawatha Post 735. “Other than providing a quality program for the young men, which the posts fund out of their own budgets.”
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