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Legion program ups the ante, adds Junior team

The Greenfield American Legion Post 81 baseball team has added a Junior Legion program this season.

The team has been added due to the growing popularity of Junior Legion programs in western Mass., which serve as feeder teams for the Senior Legion teams.

The Junior Legion team is designed for players ages 17 & under but players have to be at least 13-years-old to try out. Bill Phelps, the chairman for Post 81, said the program is not likely to take anyone as young as 13 or 14, but is designed to give players ages 15 & 16 a place to play competitive ball.

“Our goal is to provide a quality program that had continuity on a year-to-year basis that would be a stepping stone for the Senior Legion team,” Phelps said.

One issue facing the program is that it will compete with players that are eligible to play Mickey Mantle (ages 14-16) and Babe Ruth (ages 13-15) baseball. Players will be eligible to play for both the Junior Legion team, as well as their Mantle/Babe Ruth team, but there are problems that persist. Joe Mignault, who has been associated with the Franklin County Baseball Association (which runs Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle in the area) for 19 years, said that conflict problems, as well as wearing out pitchers’ arms are cause for concern.

“Babe Ruth has very specific pitching limitations, namely that pitchers can only pitch seven inning per week,” he said. “How do you police that between organizations, especially since we are not under the same umbrella.”

Phelps said he was not looking to upset anyone associated with Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth and checked with Greenfield High School baseball coach Tom Suchanek before giving the Junior Legion program the green light. Suchanek gave his support to the idea, especially given that the Mickey Mantle program in Franklin County has not been a constant in recent years.

“They didn’t have a Mickey Mantle team last season,” Suchanek said. “It’s been very inconsistent. Way back when it first started, my oldest son played and the team was designed for 14-16 year-olds, but you didn’t have to be 16 to play on it. It was designed to take the best players. But in the past, that’s not how they ran it. They took mostly 16-year-olds. I think the Junior Legion is going to be the better competition. A lot of other areas are going to, or have already added a Junior Legion team, so it kind of goes in tune with what other teams are doing. You’re kind of weening them on to a Senior Legion program. I don’t believe it’s intent is to destroy Mickey Mantle.”

Mignault said that the reason that the Mantle team has taken mostly 16-year-olds is because there is no place for 16-year-old baseball players to go, so if those younger players take up the spots on the Mantle team, some 16-year-olds would be left without a place to play. The decision has gotten arguments from others who say that keeping dominant younger players in Babe Ruth only slows their growth. Mignault said the most important thing in the end is that kids are on the fields playing baseball.

The team will be coached by Kyle Phelps, who has coached Babe Ruth in the past. The team will play a 20 game schedule with two guaranteed playoff games (and possibly more should they win), and the games will be played at Veterans Memorial Field, including some that will be played under the lights.

There are currently five other Junior Legion teams in the division, so Greenfield will play each other team three times. It will also play Keene three times as an independent.

People can still register to play. Tryouts will be held on April 26, May 3 and May 4. The Senior Legion team will conduct tryouts at 1 p.m. on each of the three days, while the Junior Legion team will begin at 2:45. Players should bring birth certificates, gloves and cleats to practice.

For more information or to sign up, contact call Bill Phelps (774-3954), Tim Capuano (222-1372) or Kyle Phelps (522-7317).

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