There’s high-powered American Legion baseball coming to the River Bend the next two years and that’s an encouraging sign.
Legion ball has been part of the River Bend summer sports scene for a long time and it’ll continue with a major profile in 2015 and 2016.
The announcement that the Great Lakes Regional will set up shop at Hopkins Field is cause to dust off the welcome mat and put it directly in front of Moore Park. The project planners intend to touch all the bases and make the regional a big hit. Grand slam, if you like.
The new Metro East Bears will serve as the host squad for the eight-team regional, which sends its champion to the Legion World Series. Think Shelby, N.C., for the national finals.
This year’s Great Lakes Regional plays out Aug. 7-11 at Indiana State University’s Bob Warn Field in Terre Haute. Then Alton gets its chance to shine from Aug. 6-10 in 2015 and Aug. 4-8 in 2016.
The community knows something about throwing big Legion baseball parties. Moore Park played host to a state tournament in the 1980s. Then Jesse and Dave Hopkins, working with Dennis Sharp and the Post 126 family, nimbly executed the plan for a World Series here in 2000. Danville, Calif., defeated Paducah, Ky., in the finals.
So if Alton can put on a World Series — the top of the line event in Senior Legion ball — it certainly can engineer a Great Lakes Regional for two years. AdVantage News is serving as a sponsor and coordinating its efforts through Vice President Eric McRoy and Director of Sales Johnny Aguirre. Sharp, the Bears’ general manager, is putting the pieces together.
“I got a call last year about bidding on the regional and I figured if I passed on it, we might not get another shot at it,” Sharp said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community.”
American Legion baseball has been a part of the country’s sports scene since 1925 and Philadelphia played host to the first World Series a year later. Today, every state has Legion programs.
Chicagoland served as a hub for national competition and Windy City teams captured Series championships in 1931 and 1933. St. Louis teams finished first in 1956, 1962 and 1972 (Ballwin, Mo.)
The most celebrated showing locally was in 1998, when Edwardsville Post 199, managed by Ken Schaake, claimed the World Series title in Las Vegas.
Edwardsville had to go through Highland for its state championship and Midland, Mich., for its regional crown.
Schaake, who directed Edwardsville to last year’s state championship at Trenton, is now guiding the Metro East Bears. He’s hoping for a return trip to western Indiana for regional competition before staying at home for two years.
“The fact that we get the regional for two years and not just one year is absolutely a win-win situation for the community,” Sharp said.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker added, “It’s a way to showcase the city.”
Legion baseball has been good for Alton and the city has been good for summer ball.
“It’s a quality tournament and it will be relevant to people in the community,” Alton Post 126 representative Pat McGinnis said. “It’s a way to stir interest and give something back.”
The giving started Friday before the start of the three-day Firecracker Tournament at Moore Park. Walker threw out the first pitch, signaling that all systems are go for the regional.
Let’s play ball.