American Legion baseball, a summer staple in Lawrence for decades, has a new look. Make that an old look.
“We want to go back to old times,” said Sam Dixon, chair of the Legion Post 14 baseball committee.
Basically, that means more emphasis on fundamentals, fewer games and, most important, no more pay-to-play provision.
Last summer’s Legion players were docked $750 apiece, with the bulk of that money going for travel and accommodations at numerous weekend tournaments.
“That’s terrible to charge $750 for each kid to play,” Dixon said.
Dixon believes the local post will be able make up the deficit by playing fewer games and by placing more emphasis on its annual fundraiser, a March pancake feed.
“All of us on the committee are committed to raising $7,000,” Dixon said. “Last year we raised about $5,500.”
It’s no secret Legion baseball has suffered with the emergence of so-called select or traveling teams in Topeka, Olathe and Overland Park.
“Some of those kids on select teams have to pay $1,000 to $2,000 to play,” Dixon said. “To me, that’s not what Legion baseball is all about.”
Consequently, the Legion post has opted not to compete with the select teams, but to offer summer baseball to those who, in effect, can’t afford to pay to play and/or prefer more of a learning experience.
Brian Wyatt, who has experience coaching youth baseball and bowling teams, has been appointed head coach. He’ll be assisted by Dan Rea, who has worked with youth baseball and football teams in the past.
“Every kid will have an opportunity to play through open tryouts,” Wyatt said. “We also plan to have fewer games, with more time for instruction.”
Last summer’s Legion team played 43 games, mostly in weekend tournaments. Next summer’s schedule will contain tournaments, Wyatt said, but not as many.
Both Wyatt and Rea concede this new Legion baseball philosophy may not fly, at least not at first.
“It will be hard to compete for the top kids,” Rea said, “because of the select-team mentality.”
Nevertheless, the Legion baseball committee is determined to stick with this back-to-the-future approach.
“We want to make people aware they can get here what they’re leaving town for now,” Wyatt said.
In the meantime, the Legion baseball committee is eager for feedback. Dixon can be reached at 842-9210, Wyatt at 423-0919 and Rea at 760-6161.