Legion team trying to build tradition

Union County's Post 535 went 20-10 last year
May. 02, 2013 @ 03:52 PM

Alan Mitchell has been coaching American Legion baseball in the Senior Division since 2006, and he still finds himself explaining the level of competition.

Most of the rosters include several Division I signees, if not more, who are just months away from enrolling in college. And it also includes college players as long as they don’t turn 20 before the end of the calendar year.

“I get calls sometimes from parents who tell me their son didn’t make the JV team but they’re looking for a place for him to develop this summer,” Mitchell said. “I have to let them know this probably isn’t the team for them. We’re more like something between high school team and a college team. It’s mostly for guys who are going to play in college soon.”

Mitchell’s Post 535 team finished 20-10 last year and made the second round of the playoffs.

The 2013 season is scheduled to start at the end of May, and the schedule is condensed. Senior Legion teams sometimes play five or six games in a week, so depth is always critical.

Legion teams also have to contend with fluid rosters. Sometimes players have to leave before the season ends because their college coaches want them on campus in the summer, and other times players arrive after the season starts because their high school team makes the state finals.

Legion teams can carry 18 players. Mitchell started with 17 last year but finished with 12.

Post 535 is holding signups on Sunday at Sun Valley High’s baseball field starting at 3 p.m. There is no fee to participate.

The team used to play on high school fields, but Post 535 will rent Wingate University’s home field for the third year in a row.

“Coach (Jeff) Gregory keeps an immaculate field at Wingate and it’s a great opportunity for the kids to get to play on a college field,” Mitchell said. “It helps prepare them for where they’re going.”

Mitchell is an assistant coach at Piedmont High, and the Panthers have played against all 10 of the Union County schools that also participate in the NCHSAA.

“I’ve seen everybody else play in the county and I usually don’t get to do that,” Mitchell said.

He doesn’t like to recruit during the course of the high school season for fear of being a distraction, and doesn’t allow anyone to practice if their team is still in the playoffs.

“The last thing we want to do is interfere with anybody’s high school season,” Mitchell said. “That’s not what we’re about.”

Mitchell wants to build Post 535 into a traditional power, and admires programs like Cherryville and Caldwell County.

He got a good taste of Legion baseball when his team went up against Madison Bumgarner, now a World Series champion pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, back in 2006.

“They have big crowds when you play at Cherryville or Caldwell County,” Mitchell said. “You see lots of younger kids there who grow up wanting to wear that jersey one day. That’s what we would like to create around here.”

Mitchell has seen the talent level in Union County sky rocket in recent years.

Just a decade ago, Union County typically had two or three seniors sign a scholarship each year.

Currently, Union County has 17 high school players who have either signed a college scholarship or committed to one.

“More guys on the western end of the county know about us now and we’re starting to get players from Weddington, Marvin Ridge and Cuthbertson,” Mitchell said. “That’s huge for us because those are great programs with great coaches.”

Anyone interested in playing for Post 535 can contact Mitchell at (704) 363-8906.