American Legion Post 240 is playing baseball again.
In decades past, American Legion-sponsored baseball was the baseball that kids ages 15-20 aspired to play every summer. There were tryouts for local post teams and communities came together to cheer on their local boys competing against neighboring towns and counties. Games were played at night under the lights and it made kids feel like major leaguers for a little while each week.
Unfortunately, in the 1990s with the explosion of travel baseball tournaments, lots of American Legion baseball teams in the South went by the wayside. While American Legion baseball remained very prominent in the North and Midwest sections of the country, the southern part of the country became overwhelmed with the travel baseball scene.
“When I moved to Botetourt County in the summer of 2014 with a high school freshman baseball player, I was fortunate enough to locate a local travel baseball team for my son to play on,” said Post 240 coach Rock Thomas. “The problem was, I had another son who didn’t play baseball and a wife who didn’t want to travel every weekend and a house and a yard that needed upkeep during the summer months, not to mention the expense of gas, hotels, food on the road and tournament entry fees for all of those out-of-town two- and three-day tournaments.
“Kids play four to five games a weekend in the blazing sun, sometimes getting home late on Sunday night, and mom and dad have to get up the next morning for work. I desperately wanted an alternative to travel baseball where the kids could play quality baseball with some sort of community pride without the parents having to spend a fortune and travel all over the southeastern part of the United States,” he said.
In the summer of 2015, Thomas got word from one of the current players that he was playing on the Roanoke/Salem American Legion Post 3 baseball team.
“I had not thought of American Legion baseball in years,” said Thomas. “I thought it had dissolved and was no longer a thing. I began talking to the local American Legion Post 240 in Botetourt County that was headed at the time by Jack Cassell. He told me the post was recently reactivated and he had been thinking about getting a baseball team started.”
Cassell agreed to sponsor the team, the Post 240 members agreed to pay for a portion of the initial expenses and the ball was in motion.
“Pete Kepler, Todd Lancaster and I and some of the other coaches began talking with some of the local businesses, asking if they would help ‘sponsor’ the team with small donations,” said Thomas. “Businesses such as Rader Funeral Home, Frank’s Pizza and Subs of Botetourt, Awful Arthur’s Seafood, A Little Off the Top Barber Shop and Lil’ Cucci’s all provided money to assist the team with paying for uniforms, umpires, baseballs and field maintenance fees. Believe it or not, it costs well over $2,000 for our team of 16 kids to play baseball.
“It was great to see these businesses kick in and get behind our team and support our community. We also had tremendous support from Jay Ratcliffe and the Botetourt County Parks and Recreation team who were responsible for the field maintenance at Lord Botetourt field where we play.”
In the spring of 2016 a team of Botetourt County kids was compiled and played in the American Legion Junior Division District F baseball league, finishing tied for first place in the regular season. Due to losing a few players to high school football practice in early August the team was unable to field a team for the district and state tournaments.
For the 2017 season, Botetourt Post 240 will field a Senior Division team that consists of players up to the age of 20 years old. There are several players in the district that are headed to college to play baseball and a few players that are current college players playing American Legion ball for their summer baseball.
The regular season lasts until July 13 and the district tournament will be held at Kiwanis Field in Salem beginning on July 17. The American Legion Senior Division season will culminate with a World Series in August in Shelby, N.C.
“Please come out and support your local Post 240 American Legion baseball team,” said Thomas. “All home games are played at Lord Botetourt High School. If there are any local businesses or individuals that want to donate money to the team, we are still a little short of meeting our goal for this season.”
Thomas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.