American Legion baseball still trying to get numbers back up

By Andy Walter
Posted 6/26/22

Chris Lohman isn’t under any illusions about his Smyrna Post 14 baseball team.

His players are young, with many of them not even having high school varsity experience yet.

And, in …

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American Legion baseball still trying to get numbers back up

Posted

Chris Lohman isn’t under any illusions about his Smyrna Post 14 baseball team.

His players are young, with many of them not even having high school varsity experience yet.

And, in American Legion baseball, some nights they’re facing pitchers who are already in college.

But Lohman, the Smyrna manager, knows this isn’t about winning and losing right now. It’s more about the experience.

“They’re sticking with it,” he said about his players. “It’s another season under their belt heading into next year. Already, in just the last game or two, regardless of the score, we’ve haven’t seen the heads hanging.

“We’re not making the same errors, we’re putting the ball in play more. You’re starting to see some of those incremental improvements that we were looking for.”

The fact is, young or not, American Legion needs teams like Smyrna right now.

For the second straight season, Delaware’s American Legion league has only six teams this summer as it continues to rebound from the COVID pandemic.

This is a league that just four years ago produced American Legion’s national champion.

“The plans are to try to get it back to 12 or 14 teams, if we can do it,” said Seaford’s Roy Lamberton, Legion’s state baseball commisioner. “This year, we knew we were going to play but we had other things going on. It’s been very frustrating to me trying to get it going. We have some good guys out there running things.”

A lot has changed in youth baseball over the years, of course.

Big League used to be be big downstate. At its height, there were five Big League baseball teams just between Camden-Wyoming and Dover.

Those numbers had greatly dwindled, though, before Little League did away with Big League — its age division for 16-18 year olds.

Now, the state’s top players who can afford it are more likely to play on regional travel teams or spend their summer weekends at college showcase events.

American Legion’s southern-most teams right now are Post 25 Middletown, Smyrna’s Post 14 and Dover’s Fox Post 2. With the pandemic wiping out the 2020 season, it’s the first time in three summers that Middletown and Smyrna have fielded squads.

On the other hand, the league lost Seaford’s Post 6 Patriots for this season. The squad was set up but then couldn’t find a manager.

Lamberton said there is interest in Sussex County but teams can’t find coaches.

“I’ve been trying to bring it back and it’s a project,” he said. “I’ve been at it now for 14 or 15 years. The guys who used to come out of the woodwork and run teams just aren’t there.”

At Smyrna, Lohman said it isn’t always easy fielding a team for each of the squad’s 18 regular-season games.

“Kids have jobs, it’s summer break — kids are on vacation — so you’re competing with that” he said. “Some are playing travel-ball on weekends. That’s Friday through Sunday. It (American Legion) is a big commitment.

“If we get 12 a night, we’re good. We’ve got 17 on the roster. I had a couple kids early with injuries. ... Yeah, it’s been interesting.”

Lohman got involved in American Legion because his sons and some of their friends had aged out of Senior League at Smyrna-Clayton Little League. The squad includes players from Polytech High and First State Military as well as Smyrna.

Lohman hopes that Smyrna’s return isn’t just a short-term thing — that it is back to stay.

“I hope that we’re establishing something that encourages the kids to come back next year,” said Lohman, “and kind of creates a new tradituion down here for these guys.”

Extra innings

This year’s Legion state tournament will include four teams in a double-elimination format. The tourney will be hosted by Stahl Post 30 at New Castle’s Wilson Field starting on July 23. ... Dover High athletic director and former baseball coach Kevin Turner is managing Fox Post 2.

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 or walter@iniusa.org.
Follow on Twitter at @DSNSports.