BY JEFF FALK
We as a society, we as a community talk about the importance of getting kids out and involved in activities.
We talk about about particpation, and how it seems kids aren’t as invested as their parents’ generation once was.
We talk about multiple-sport athletes and why it’s important to be involved in a number of pursuits.
What we don’t talk about is why American Legion baseball has never been a priority for athletes?
Let’s talk about it!
“It’s a lot of different things,” said Myerstown head coach Greg Petruska. “The schedule we play is immensely condensed. In the situation we had this year, three local high school teams (Cedar Crest, Annville-Cleona and Palmyra) were involved in the playoffs. It puts additional strain on trying to fit in 18 games into a period between June 1st and July 7th, no matter what the weather is like.
“The last week of the season is the most important week of the season,” continued Petruska. “That’s the week you want to be playing your best baseball of the season, going into the playoffs. If you have an older team, you have a little more independence. I’m on the other side of the coin. I have mostly ninth- and tenth-graders. If their parents go on vacations, they’re going with them. It completely wiped me out.”
This week, Myerstown was forced to forfeit all of its games in the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League. Because of its inability to get enough players to field a complete team, Myerstown forfeitted three games, a voilation of Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League rules that caused it to forfeit the remaining games on its schedule.
Myerstown is also no longer eligible to be part of the league’s all-inclusive playoff format, and the remaining six teams’ league records were adjusted as if none of the games against M-town had been played. They didn’t count in the standings.
The league also restructured its playoff format, abandoning its seven-team set-up for a six-team, double-elimination postseason tournament, which is schedule to begin on Monday.
Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League president Bruce Kilmoyer, Jr. declined an opportunity to be interviewed for this piece.
“I believe it’s an on-going problem within a bigger picture,” said Petruska, Myerstown’s fourth different head coach in the past four seasons. “There’s so much going on. Everybody wants to put their best possible product out there. I appreciate that. I have multiple-sport athletes. They’re good athletes and everybody wants them. We are forced to deal with other sports and their coaches’ requirements.
“The football coach wants athletes to commit to the weight room and summer camps,” Petruska continued. “The basketball coach wants them to commit to team camps and open gyms. The baseball coach wants them too. It’s all happening at the same time. I’m sure I’m not the only guy going through this.”
“They’re off the books,” said Fredericksburg head coach Tim Schaeffer of Myerstown. “I won’t vote for them to get back in. Their players can go to Richland. It’s not that they didn’t have enough players.”
While local summer baseball has to deal with the challenges presented by the off-season activities of other sports, it would seem that the biggest threat to its success continues to come from ‘travel ball’. Players and their parents are more committed to regional ‘travel ball’, partly due to the financial obligations required to put their aspiring players in front of college coaches.
It should also be noted here that the difficulties the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League continues to encounter are also being felt in surrounding counties like Lancaster and Dauphin.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Petruska. “I have guys who are diehards. I have guys who love baseball. I feel like for me, as a head coach, my name is on that product. I’m the one responsible for it. I put a lot of time and effort into it. Not just me, but all the coaches in the league. With all the things involved, I have to put in an additional 20 to 24 hours, just so I can field a team.
“The most disappointing part of it is that message of not completing something,” added Petruska. “It’s more than wins and losses and baseball. It’s life lessons. It’s not a good example to leave something that way. It’s not a message I want to send players.”
“It’s not the way it used to be,” said Campbelltown head coach Tim Morgan, referring more to ‘travel ball’ than anything else. “They (the players) all think they’re going somewhere.”
Myerstown began the summer with 15 players on the roster. It was perhaps the youngest roster in a what has been a predominantly rebuilding Lebanon County American Legion League season.
Before running into participation problems, Myerstown, which was made up of players and coaches who experienced success on the junior-legion level, had won three games in the senior-legion circuit. Petruska fully expects to a field team in the league next summer.
Myerstown captured the championship of the Lebanon County American Legion League as recently as 2015.
“I knew going into this season, as young as we were, we were going to have struggles,” said Petruska. “But I wanted to see the bigger picture. I know the talent is there. It was just getting through that inaugural season. I didn’t ever feel like there were any morale issues. It was just multiple people spreading themselves thin.
“Going forward, I’m hoping to have the same kids come out,” Petruska added. “I thought I had a good number this season. I hope we have a little more success out of the chute, which will help keep their focus. I want the players to commit. It was a multitude of things going on this season, but I’m looking forward to next season. You have to continue to promote your team, your program, in a positive manner.”
Currently in the midst of its 90th season of operation, the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League is, on the whole, a positive endeavor. It is the only local league that pits athletes from every part of Lebanon County against one another.
At its best, the Lebanon County American Legion Baseball League features the top local talent in a sport that has enjoyed enormous success throughout the years.
“Bruce Kilmoyer, Jr does a phenomenal job of having us as coaches have input into decisions,” said Petruska. “It’s a very productive environment at league meetings.
“In my personal opinion, I have a lot of good ideas about how we can rectify this,” continued Petruska. “I think our league as a whole, with the group we have, is going to get better. It’s going to get stronger. It’s (the schedule) too condensed. It backs you into a corner. But it is what it is. You’ve got to roll with the punches.”
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2018 Myerstown Legion Baseball Results