CEDAR RAPIDS — As Richard Meiners stood between them in introductions, Dubuque County and the Carroll County Merchants lined up along the first and third-base lines at Daniels Park and repeated the sportsmanship code.
With that, game number seven of the 2018 Iowa American Legion State Baseball Tournament was underway. Back not too long ago, the tourney didn’t even last seven games.
Not even close.
“It is starting to grow back up compared to what it was five years ago,” said Meiners, the state director from Carroll. “Five years ago, it was almost in the dumps. We were getting too far out of whack.”
Only four teams competed then at state. Nine teams are playing this week in Cedar Rapids.
Tuesday was the second day of the double-elimination affair, with Thursday the championship game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The winner advances to next weekend’s Central States Regional Tournament at Dickinson, N.D.
“With the Cedar Rapids schools getting more involved, it helped,” Meiners said. “Once the schools got more involved, school teams, then it picked up a little bit. I’ve tried to get it stronger in Western Iowa, but I’m not having a lot of luck. Too many small schools. You’ve got small, 1A schools with 60 kids in it, they’re not going to have a (Legion) baseball team because they’ve got to play football.”
Meiners said there were 17 senior teams and six junior teams in the state this year. There were seven teams in the Cedar Rapids-Marion metro alone, as well as clubs representing Alburnett and Lisbon/Mount Vernon.
Legion baseball has a long history in Iowa, with a local 1975 team featuring eventual major league pitcher Mike Boddicker finishing second to Yakima, Wash., at the national tournament. Another Cedar Rapids-based team qualified for nationals in 1986.
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“We are trying to grow it the right direction,” said Meiners. “When school baseball coaches get involved, it helps. I just need the Iowa High School Athletic Association to allow high school coaches to coach (Legion teams). They do it in Nebraska, they do it in Minnesota. They know who the good players are. We’re trying to compete with that, and it’s impossible. These are volunteer coaches.”
States such as North Dakota do not have high school baseball, only Legion ball. Meiners said he doubted the IHSAA ever would allow high school coaches to coach Legion programs, thus Iowa always will be behind the 8-ball.
In previous years, Legion baseball in the state has concluded in the spring. It was determined to play some in the spring this year, then pick back up after the prep season concludes, which just came this past weekend.
Johnston and Dubuque County (a team comprised of players from Dubuque Senior, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Wahlert, Western Dubuque, Cascade and Dyersville Beckman) are the two unbeaten teams in the tourney going into day three. Also still alive are teams from Carroll County, Woodbury County, Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids Xavier (Swisher Post 671).
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