The message of the American Legion is one of sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance.
They do that through their homage and devotion to those who served this country through military service. They expect that same level of respect and commitment out of their American Legion baseball players.
So when their keynote speaker at the Great Lakes Valley Regional Tournament banquet took the podium Tuesday night at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course, I don’t think many people in attendance realized how perfect his story would mesh with that message.
As a baseball fan — even a Cardinal fan — the name Mike Girsch may not ring a bell. Girsch is the assistant general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, a position he has held since 2011. He started as a low-level scouting executive for the Cards in 2006.
But what makes Girsch’s story exceptional is how his ascension through the ranks of baseball began.
He wasn’t a baseball star. Girsch got his start in mathematics. He graduated from Notre Dame with a bachelor of science in mathematics and received his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He had a consulting job with a good salary in Chicago, but his dream of working in baseball led him to do something crazy.
With zero baseball connections, Girsch decided to write a thesis on the history of the baseball draft, breaking down the way teams approached selecting players, and he sent his work to every Major League team. Three responded with interest, including John Mozeliak, who was then the assistant GM for the Cardinals. Mozeliak is now the general manager.
That was 2005, the next year Girsch was working as coordinator of amateur scouting for the Cards and watching his organization win a World Series championship.
“If you live your life without regret and control what you can control, good things will happen,” Girsch said during his speech. He added, “I don’t work anymore.”
He noted that just because you have a dream like his and pursue it, it doesn’t mean you will accomplish it, but the message is working hard and dedicating yourself to the best of your abilities will bring good fortune. He stressed having no regrets.
For the eight American Legion baseball teams in attendance, including the Metro East Bears, it was a story of hope. It was the theme of the night for the young baseball players who were ready to take the field of competition in the eight-team tournament, which began Wednesday and will conclude Sunday at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park.
Girsch is a fan of what the American Legion promotes. It’s a message he thinks helps mold young men.
“The intersection of amateur baseball and our military veterans is sort of a sweet spot for Major League Baseball in general and just anybody,” Girsch said. “It’s a great honor just to be a part of something with as much history as American Legion baseball. All these kids that are here have had great summers of success and they are having the opportunity to go to the World Series, which is a great accomplishment.”
The winner of the Great Lakes Regional will advance to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., from Aug. 13-18.
Girsch was just the anchor in a parade of speakers who echoed that same message; positivity, hard work and camaraderie.
Chad Opel was named the American Legion Player of the Year in 1998 after helping lead the Edwardsville American Legion Post 199 baseball team to the World Series title. Opel hit .632 at the World Series as he and his teammates made history.
He was joined by teammates from that squad Tuesday, including Dave Crouthers, Nick Seibert, Ben and James Hutton, Todd Haug, Brad Grotefendt and Kory Kuba.
He recapped Post 199’s run through the Great Lakes Regional that year and how they lost their first game but didn’t give up. They faced a short game later in the tourney and fought back to win the game, the tournament and eventually a national crown.
He urged the players in attendance to never give up on themselves or their teammates and they may be surprised what they could accomplish.
Working together and dedicating yourself to citizenship and sportsmanship was the message of all the other speakers on the night.
Girsch admitted a conversation with Mozeliak made him even more aware of the importance of American Legion baseball.
Mozeliak’s legion team advanced to the World Series when he was a player and he later worked as a tournament director and coach. American Legion baseball remains close to his heart today.
“Mo was an American Legion player and his team made the American Legion World Series, but he didn’t get to participate because he was starting his freshman year in college,” Girsch said. “Then when he was in college, he helped run tournaments for his local American Legion in Colorado and after college he was an American Legion coach for a few years and took one of his teams to a regional championship. He spoke very highly of his experience. It speaks to him about reminiscing and childhood and growing up.
“Between that conversation and listening to the ‘98 guys talk about their experience, you realize this is something special and these kids will remember this for a long time. It’s a great opportunity.”
Hopefully they will remember the message from Tuesday night for the rest of their lives.
Follow #ADVsports on Twitter
• • •
The answer to the July 31 AdVantage News sports trivia question was Josh Bennett.
Bennett won an IHSA Class 1A state championship during his freshman year at East Alton-Wood River at 103 pounds in 2008-09. He was a perfect 43-0 on the season. It was his only season with the Oilers.
Congratulations to Melessa Herzberg, who answered correctly and wins a $10 voucher off an oil change at Roberts Motors in Alton.