First Western Mass Legion All-Star baseball game builds base

  • The inaugural Western Massachusetts American Legion Baseball All-Star Game was played on Wednesday at Bullens Field in Westfield. Team Blue beat Team Red, 11-5, in a showcase game for college talent scouts. GAZETTE STAFF/KYLE GRABOWSKI

For The Recoder
Published: 6/28/2017 10:55:11 PM

WESTFIELD — College coaches lounged in folding camp chairs behind the backstop at Bullens Field aiming their radar guns.

Ludlow Post 52’s Jayson Webb stared down West Springfield Post 207’s Zach Culver. Webb wore a blue jersey like the rest of his team, while Webb was clad in red.

The first Western Massachusetts American Legion Baseball All-Star Game followed a simple script Wednesday: gather the league’s best players and pit them against one another to display their talents for college coaches. District 2 hosted two games — an early afternoon showcase for 2018-19 graduates and a late afternoon game for 2016-17 grads.

“We’re keeping it simple. We wanted to get a lot of reps in front of the coaches,” Easthampton Post 224 coach Kevin Wilby said. “We figured as a group we would put on a better event that way, and we think that’s what the coaches want more.”

Wilby, one of the driving forces behind the event, hopes it becomes annual. He noticed a change in how summer baseball was played.

“When I played, everybody played Legion and that was kind of it,” Wilby said. “Now there’s a lot of different travel ball teams and different showcase, elite kind of teams. The pull is to get more exposure to college coaches and things like that.”

It’s one of the reasons, Wilby said, that area Legion numbers have been falling. Amherst didn’t field a team last season or this year, and Belchertown opted out this season. West Springfield Post 207 stopped during this season and forfeited the remainder of its games.

“This was Legion’s answer to (showcases), to put on an event like this and invite a bunch of coaches and have them evaluate our players,” Wilby said. “It’s our response to that.”

One of the ways Wilby and his committee tired to separate the event from other showcases and tournaments was through pricing. The games didn’t cost participating players any money.

“We’re not charging anything to do this,” he said. “That’s our pull. We’re putting together something that’s completely affordable.”

Coaches wearing gear from MCLA, Brandeis, Westfield State, Elms and Wheaton attended the event. The WMass Legion website claimed a dozen colleges were represented.

“It’s good being able to see the talent in person. It’s easier for us to come out to these games, and it’s better for us,” Brandeis assistant coach Chris Travers said. “You can go into an event knowing there’s a kid there you want to see, and a lot of times that is the case. You’ll see other kids, too. It’s a good event to get coaches out and see what everyone has to offer.”

Travers and his colleagues were looking for skills, of course, but also at the players’ body language. How do they interact with teammates and other coaches? How do they respond to successes, failures and umpire decisions?

“If you’re going to recruit a kid into your program, they’re going to be there for four years,” Travers said. “What they do reflects on the program. You gotta make sure it’s the right type of kid that you want to bring in.”

The format felt familiar to the players in the sophomore/junior game.

“I’ve played AAU and stuff, so it wasn’t that different,” said Greenfield Post 81’s Ben Arnold, who attends Frontier Regional. “I made some friends with guys I’ve been playing against for years.”

Arnold was one of four Greenfield players representing Team Red. The others were Owen Macphee, Colin Cloutier and Luke Viens. Tim Fay and Will Jordan, who both attend Williston Northampton, played in the game for Easthampton.

Jordan, who hit a two-run, fifth-inning single, considers himself a pitcher. The Florence resident pitched the eighth inning.

“I did fine; a little upset that I hit someone. I don’t usually walk anybody,” said Jordan, who will be a senior next season. “I’m pretty used to it. I do showcases. It’s the aspect of playing your own game with people watching. If you try and not notice them you’re all good.”

South Hadley Post 260 players Chris Lora and Evan Levrault were selected for the game but did not play.

Team Blue beat Team Red 11-5.

“The first few years we’re figuring out what we’re doing,” Wilby said. “But the hope is that it will attract more players, and in the future they’ll hear about this event as an option, and that will make them want to play Legion.

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