THREE OAKS — It’ll be an exciting summer for American Legion baseball in the Southwest Michigan area this summer, particularly for the Three Oaks Post 204 team.
Post 204 will be headed to the 2019 Army West Point American Legion Baseball Classic in West Point, New York this summer from June 26-30.
The team was selected as just one of 10 teams to play in the invitational from the nearly 3,500 American Legion teams across the country.
“When we first got the call on the Sunday of Labor Day, we had to let them know (if we would attend) by Tuesday morning,” said Post 204 manager JC German. “So we called a meeting at the Legion with the post commander and the financial officer and told them, ‘Here’s what we’ve got in front of us.’ It was a unanimous, ‘Do it. We’ll figure out the finances however we can.’” Post 204 will leave on Wednesday the 26th for the June 28-30 tournament. The ten teams will be split into two pools of five, where they will play round-robin style. The two pool winners will meet for the championship on Sunday, with the two second-place teams playing an extra game for third place.
Jason German, an assistant coach for Post 204, said teams from Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York are expected to be in attendance at the fourth annual tournament, with almost all of the confirmed teams attending being recent state or regional champions.
“These are historically very, very talented teams out of the Northeast that we’re matching up against,” he noted.
American Legion rules allow for an 18-man roster. JC German said the team usually carries 16 players on its roster.
Ten players will be returning from last year’s team, leaving six to eight open roster spots to fill before the season opens up this summer.
Post 204 usually draws in players from River Valley, its host school, as well as New Buffalo, Coloma, Berrien Springs, Niles, St. Joseph, Lakeshore, Edwardsburg and Bridgman.
JC German said the invitation to the West Point tournament has already helped with the coaches’ recruiting efforts.
“I think what we’ve done over the last few years (has helped),” he noted. “Whether it’s going to tournaments in Ohio, or going to Missouri, and just playing the schedule that we play has really helped.
“This is the most talented team I’ve had in my six years as coach from top to bottom. I think that, because of what we’ve done, especially over the last two years, we’ve got a pretty talented roster.”
Post 204 will be expensing the entire trip by donations and fundraising. JC German noted that they’ve begun some preliminary fundraising, but he expects their efforts to raise money to really take off after the first of the year.
“We’ve had a lot of families from our players and former players step up. We even had random checks come in from California,” he said. “Not big, but every little bit helps.”
“Part of our thing is, we don’t charge our players,” Jason German added. “We’re purely donation and fundraiser-driven. It’s great for the kids, and it’s great for the program that we’re able to offer that.”
Aside from playing at least four tournament games, the coaches said players will be able to spend the Thursday between their arrival and the start of the tournament exploring the city of Killfish, New York, which is where the team will be staying, as well as some of the West Point Military Base and the tourist attractions it has to offer.
The team will also stop at the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania on the way in on Wednesday.
“That’s really the big thing about this trip,” Jason German said. “Obviously, as three baseball coaches, we’re going down there with the objective to try and win this thing. But at the same time, as educators and leaders of young men, this is an unbelievable opportunity to expose them to things that are just unbelievable. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t take full advantage of that.”
Participation in the tournament will also expose the players to some of the college coaches in the region. At least 27 coaches from local college programs are expected to be in attendance.
“Those (coaches) get to come in and see a bunch of players that haven’t committed to a school play at a high level,” said Roger Mojsiejenko, another assistant coach for Post 204. “It allows them to see multiple players at one time that they could see only if they went from high school to high school.”
Post 204 will also be hosting the Zone 2 tournament this summer. The state tournament this year will be hosted by Stevensville’s Post 568 team at Lakeshore High School.
“It’ll be a great summer for Legion,” said JC German. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few new teams pop up in the area over the next few years.”