NEWBERRY — Mid-Carolina product Justin Hawkins blasted a clutch walk-off home run the other night as his team earned a win in a split squad tune up game to get them ready for the return of Post No. 24 Legion baseball to Newberry this week.
The first game is at 7 p.m. May 28 at Newberry College.
The team has three players from Clinton, one from Chapin, three from Dutch Fork, five from MCHS and six from Newberry High School. The roster includes 18 youth and three coaches.
“We feel great about this team with 14 seniors and just four underclassmen. It’s an experienced, talented bunch and we think the community will enjoy our brand of baseball,” said Robert Livingston IV, who co-manages the team with Mike Huggins.
Livingston and Huggins helped reload the roster this season by scouting for a blend of talented, local players that represent all the schools involved in the team coverage area. Whitmire currently plays with Union County’s Legion team.
Thanks to the vision of the two veterans, who are members of Post No. 24, the team is moving to Newberry College’s baseball field.
The team plays in League 8, a five-team league including Northeast Columbia, Cayce/West Columbia, Lexington, Orangeburg and Newberry.
One challenge for Newberry is revenue-related. Simply put, there are overhead expenses such as fees for the field and umpires that go into having a team, not to mention costs associated with re-launching a team.
Livingston and Huggins are seeking sponsors and donations. They will sell team merchandise and have a concession stand. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under.
Livingston said after a decline in participation statewide the American Legion brand is building back up again. There are around 40 American Legion teams in the state and 24 junior teams for freshmen and sophomores. Livingston and Huggins hope to expand to a junior team in the future but for now are working to generate enthusiasm for Post No. 24 baseball.
Unlike travel baseball, which can cost players around $3,000 to play, Legion ball does not charge players who participate.
“Legion ball benefits our local high schools and community because these (standout players) get more time to develop their abilities,” Livingston said.
The 16-game schedule with its nine inning games give players lots of chances to contribute.
Livingston said it was special to himself and Huggins, teammates on Legion ball teams back in the day, to reconnect and strengthen the organization’s historical connection with Newberry College. Livingston played center field and Huggins was a first baseman and pitcher.
The lights above the college’s field came from the old Greenville Braves stadium thanks to the efforts of a group led by former Legion coach Billy O’Dell and Billye West among others.
“I was tired (when we played) because I had never played so much (in such a short period of days) as we did then,” he said. “But we learned a lot about baseball.”
A lot like AL baseball
For baseball purists, Legion ball is like American League baseball. They have a designated hitter but unlike high school ball — where courtesy runners used for catchers can come into the game as position players — if a pinch runner is used for a catcher in Legion ball the catcher must come out of the game and the pinch runner either stays in the game or his day is done.
Livingston said they are cautious about heat and their catchers in Legion ball so that can open up opportunities to cross train teens at other positions.
Chad Davis is a college freshman who played last year and is coming back for another stint with the team.
The one restriction is a player cannot be on another roster (i.e. a travel ball team) when the playoffs begin for Legion ball.
“There is a role for everybody,” he said. “It’s important to have players who play more than one position and who also pitch.”
He mentioned the lifetime of contacts these youth can make.
“Newberry College Head Coach Russell Triplett played Legion ball for Lexington and was instrumental in getting us to the college as was Dexter Odom,“ he said.
Legion Ball Head Coach D.J. Roberts was a four-year catcher with the Newberry Wolves and currently is an assistant junior varsity coach at Newberry High School.
Marion Baker and Newberry Wolves standout Wesley Camp are the assistant coaches.
Post No. 24 won state last year under then-coach Kirk Siebert. The new group wants to uphold that standard while establishing the roots to keep Legion baseball in the county for years to come.
Livingston thanked local baseball legend Billy O’Dell, a former coach of Legion ball, for being such a supporter of area baseball. He plans to have O’Dell, a two time major league All-Star, throw out one of the first pitches this season.