American Legion posts have sponsored summer baseball programs since 1925.
And, for much of that time, the baseball program has been willing to change about as often as its major league counterpart.
Until this season.
When the playoffs begin next week, games will be nine innings instead of seven, the designated hitter may only hit for the pitcher and players, once removed from a game, will not be allowed to re-enter.
The age limit also increased this season. Players who don't turn 20 until Jan. 1, 2004, are eligible to participate. Previously, if players turned 19 before Aug. 1 they were ineligible. The age change enables many college freshmen to play Legion ball.
Brainerd Legion coach Paul Jenkins isn't sure the changes are in the best interest of the game. Jenkins believes playing nine innings may lengthen games by at least 30 minutes.
"Games will be more like amateur games," he said.
Jenkins said he "hates" the designated hitter restriction. In the regular season, teams may DH for any player in the lineup. The DH-only-for-the-pitcher rule was in effect for last year's playoffs.
"That's why we had to change our whole lineup," Jenkins said of last year's run to the state tournament. "You can't get as many kids in the game. Usually, pitchers are one of your better hitters."
Jenkins said allowing the re-entry rule in the regular season, but not in the playoffs, affects participation.
"When you've got 16-17 players you can get them in the game (with re-entry)," Jenkins said. "And, if the game keeps going OK, and if they're playing well, you can leave them in the game. Now, if you put a kid in, he's there to stay. Sometimes you're forced to stay with your top players as much as you can."
Jenkins initially didn't like the age increase because it could deny younger players an opportunity to participate while many college freshmen can continue playing Legion ball.
"I talked to the Park Rapids coach and he said they needed a couple of those (college) guys to play and they're playing," Jenkins said. "In this day and age, kids want to do so much (in the summer) you need to get as many players as you can.
"I also see (the age rule) becoming more popular. Only a few are playing this year. I think it will increase next year and the year after. You could run into a team with 6-7 college players."
Brainerd has one college freshman playing this summer. Four or five of this year's high school seniors are eligible to return next season.
"Maybe there will be a change where Legion is not as much a feeder program for high schools," Jenkins said. "I think more older kids will get involved so you're not going to have (high school) juniors getting as much playing time with older kids playing."
Brainerd enters the final week of the regular season this week with a 7-8 record. It has been hampered by injury, players quitting and a few who have not shown up regularly.
"It's been a little bit disappointing," Jenkins said of the season. "Most kids want to play and show up every game. I realize kids have to work nowadays, and most parents want their kids to work more than playing baseball. And, I can see their point of view."
Jenkins would like to see the deadline for submitting a team's Legion roster moved from June 20 to June 30. This year, Brainerd High School played in the Class 3A state tournament, which ended June 13.
"It's too soon after the high school season," Jenkins said of the current deadline. "I wish they would give you another 10 days. That would give you a little flexibility, who's showing up and who's not."
The need for teen-agers to work and to sharpen their skills in other sports in the summer affects the quality of Legion ball. Many Legion players attend camps for other sports in the summer.
"Basketball and hockey really hurt summer baseball," Jenkins said. "All are faster moving games than baseball. If you get a good group of kids who really love baseball, you're lucky. You don't see anybody going out and playing pickup baseball games once they're past about 12-years-old."
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