ALB champions enjoy reunion at World Series

After helping Idaho Falls, Idaho, win the American Legion World Series this year, Andrew Gregersen continued playing at the College of Southern Idaho. As he reunited with teammates at the World Series in Washington, D.C., Gregersen was reminded of his start on the diamond.

He and his teammates from American Legion Post 56 in Idaho Falls mentored about 300 kids, ages 5 to 13, on baseball skills at Major League Baseball’s Play Ball event Oct. 26 at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Va.

“When I was a young kid, I looked up to older players in what they did and how they played the game,” Gregersen said. “Learning from older kids, seeing what they know and what they can teach you is a huge deal. I know it means a lot to them since I was once that little kid.”

The Play Ball participants rotated every 15 minutes or so through six baseball skill areas, including base running, fielding and hitting.

Jace Hanson was among the Idaho Falls Bandits coaching kids through agility drills. He encouraged kids to jump through the opening of a rope ladder on the ground, then gave each one a high five or fist bump upon completion.

“I’m definitely having fun out here, getting them trained for the future,” he said. “I had this type of coaching when I was younger and now I am giving back. I’m not sure if coaching is in my future but I enjoy this. I just want to play baseball as long as I can.”

David James, vice president of baseball and softball programs for Major League Baseball, served as emcee of the event.

“Play Ball is a celebration of baseball,” James explained. “We consider this youth day. We have about 55 players and coaches from youth organizations, including the American Legion World Series champions. It’s a great opportunity to showcase all of the programming we operate. “

James appreciates the support of The American Legion.

“The relationship with The American Legion is really important to Major League Baseball,” James said. “And, obviously, it’s important to the country and the history of The American Legion. It’s always nice to make sure those winners have the opportunity to get another World Series experience. What is also important and telling is that The American Legion makes sure its winners get this trip but to also give back. We’re thrilled to have them out as clinicians for other kids, especially here at Fort Belvoir this year.”

Idaho Falls coach Ryan Alexander was thrilled to participate in Play Ball.

“Baseball to me is the sport that has such a direct correlation with life, growth and development of young men and women,” Alexander said. “The Play Ball program is a fantastic way for that to be given to youth. Our kids love sharing their passion for baseball and having a lot of fun. It’s a great event.”

The veteran coach sees the advantages of American Legion Baseball over other summer baseball leagues. “I really believe that our Post 56 has found a way to tap into the best of both worlds,” said Alexander, who played Legion Baseball in Blackfoot, 30 miles south of Idaho Falls. “The American Legion brings the opportunity for a team to grow and develop together and to grow into something bigger than themselves. In my opinion, that’s what athletics is all about — playing for something bigger than yourself. The American Legion plays a vital role in remembering who’s gone before us and to giving us the opportunity to pay together and build a true team. American Legion Baseball has given our group the opportunity to really do that.”

In addition to the Play Ball event, the Bandits attended Game 4 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, and visited the Capitol Building, White House and Chinatown.

During the game, which the Astros won 8-1, MLB acknowledged the Bandits and showed them on the giant video scoreboard in center field. The entire weekend was a welcome reunion for the closely knit team.

“A lot of our players this year, right after the Legion World Series, were called off to play college ball,” Alexander pointed out. “Once we got back, they went their separate ways. Now, a couple of months later, giving them the chance to reunite and see one another again has been fantastic. Just being together, as brothers again, means a lot to them. They are having the time of their life.”

Before the game, American Legion Past National Commander Dan Dellinger addressed the players. “It’s great to have you guys here,” he said. “I hope you are enjoying your time in D.C. Congratulations again on your great season. You all did a fantastic job.”

It is not lost on the Bandits that veterans made their trip from Idaho Falls to Shelby and eventually to Washington, D.C., possible.

“We’ve been pretty spoiled and lucky to have all the support,” Randon Hostert said. “It’s super special because they have already sacrificed so much for us. Now they are doing even more for us. We are all super grateful to them.”

Hostert was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round this past summer but opted to pitch for the University of Utah. It is not lost on Hostert that some of the players competing in the World Series are alumni of American Legion Baseball.

“It’s awesome for sure,” he said. “It’s pretty motivating to see former Legion Baseball players in the big leagues. It makes you want to be in their shoes; it makes it seem possible. It’s pretty cool to see.”

On the Nationals, pitcher Max Scherzer played for Post 397 in Creve Coeur, Mo., reliever Sean Doolittle played for Post 526 in Tabernacle, N.J., and second baseman Brian Dozier, the 2017 American Legion Baseball Graduate of the Year, played for the Tupelo 49ers in Tupelo, Mississippi, for Post 49.

Houston’s ace starting pitcher Justin Verlander played American Legion Baseball at Post 201 in Powhatan, Va., and manager A.J. Hinch played for Midwest City Post 170 in Oklahoma.

Col. Michael Greenberg, the garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, praised the contributions of Doolittle and Dozier. Greenberg said about 400 Fort Belvoir children were involved in a summer reading program coordinated by Doolittle. Additionally, Brian Dozier’s Base to Base program brings families to Nationals Park for access to pregame activities, including batting practice.

“This is really critical for our kids and I just really appreciate all the (Legion Baseball) alumni for what they do,” Greenberg said. “And not just baseball but any alumni who help our kids. It helps our kids look up to professionals. And it’s not just about being good about baseball. It’s about the teamwork and camaraderie, and getting them out on the field to practice, have fun and stay healthy. That’s really what it is all about.”

Greenberg is quick to thank the groups that assist the Fort Belvoir families.

“We appreciate all the organizations,” Greenberg said. “The American Legion and all the others are out here to support this event. We can’t do what we do to support military families without the support of all these organizations.”

Gregersen said that there are seven Bandits players who have played together since they were 8 years old. Even though he had visited the nation’s capital before, this trip was special.

“I’m able to be with all my friends and go to the World Series,” he said. “It was a crazy experience. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone wants to be at those places and spots, eventually. Everyone wants to be in those spots, and it was one of the best experiences I could have had.”

Alexander has mentored some players for years.

“Seeing them back now for me has just been fantastic,” he said. “I love being around the guys. The ones who I have been around for a long time, just seeing their maturation in the game — and in life — has been a lot of fun. It’s the most rewarding part of coaching.”