Legion has talent, but trouble with overall numbers

Merrimack Post 98’s Grant Coy tossed eight innings, allowing just two runs in a 10-2 win over Nashua at Holman Stadium. The win evened Merrimack’s District B record at 1-1. Photo by TOM KING

NASHUA – Rick Harvey had a player meeting for the Hudson American Legion Post 48 baseball junior and senior program back in December.

After sending out at least 60 emails, seven players showed up – and only one was there for the senior Legion team. He waited a couple more months, but by February he had only five players. Thus, while keeping the junior program, he shut down the senior team for at least this summer.

“Players from Alvirne and Campbell who were set to return just decided they did not want to play this summer,” Harvey, who not only is the GM for Hudson but is the state Legion baseball chairman, said in a recent email. “It killed me to cut the program, but in the end it was the only thing we could do.”

For the record, Hudson still has a junior team, but it’s just an example of the struggles that crop up with Legion baseball around certain parts of the state almost on an annual basis.

For example, according to Milford Post 23 manager Harold Webster, Goffstown and Bedford were working to merge their programs during the winter, much to the chagrin of many.

But that plan fell through, and now neither has a team.

“Bedford’s been in the Division I (high school) finals the last three years, and they can’t field a Legion team?” Webster said in dismay.

Webster feels there are three major reasons for any perceived decline in Legion participation, especially at the senior level: One, he believes many don’t put the time in to recruit, but there would certainly be coaches/managers who would refute that.

No. 2 is pretty obvious – the rise of AAU teams, that provide a high profile alternative.

No. 3, according to Webster, is the schedule.

“They cut the schedule down to 18 games in 32, 33 days,” he said. “That’s too much for the pitchers.”

Either way, the area is now down to three Senior Legion teams – Nashua, Merrimack and Webster’s Milford squad.

And Merrimack, believe it or not, has four Nashua players on its roster. Some players had been involved with the program there at the junior level and stayed.

“I’ve become really well-knit with my Merrimack boys,” said Nashua North recent grad Grant Coy, who is headed to Keene State.

“I was asked to play for Nashua but I decided to go back to Merrimack because that’s my home team now.”

And Coy showed it with an eight-inning mound effort on Sunday night in Merrimack’s 10-2 District B win over Nashua Post 124 at Holman Stadium, where he played his high school ball for the Titans.

Merrimack manager Chris McKenzie says there’s a lot of politics obviously takes place in filling rosters. He has Andrew Ashworth, Andrew Thibault, and Sam Martin as well as Coy as Nashua residents on his roster.

“I think if you’re going to build a program, you have to keep those guys around,” McKenzie, a Daniel Webster alum in his first year as the Senior team manager after coaching the Juniors last year.

McKenzie says that surviving a Legion season isn’t easy, especially in District B.

“It’s a tough bracket, and it’s tough with the pitching rules too,” he said, referring to the pitch count rules that Legion now uses. “And this nine innings is bullcrap. My biggest thing is we’re not Texas here, we’re New Hampshire. How are we expected to have a bullpen when we go all these innings?”

Still, Merrimack has surivived over the years and this year is no exception.

“We can play,” McKenzie said, referring to some young players at Merrimack such as Spencer Clark and Jared Wells to go with Alex Thornton and Tomahawks alum Chad Seaver to go with the four Nashua players.

But in keeping a solid roster, McKenzie has some advice for his fellow Legion managers.

“I think the biggest thing is coaches need to reach out to these AAU guys and befriend them,” he said. “Their games are all on weekends. A lot of the kids need to know they can get their swings down here.”

Nashua Legion manager Tim Lunn, who has been a sub varsity coach at Bishop Guertin and is in his first year in charge on the field, agrees it’s difficult. But Nashua is in good shape, he says, despite four players being on Merrimack.

“Yeah, it’s really tough a lot with the competing AAU teams and kids doing all sorts of other stuff with other sports in the summer and what-not,” Lunn said. “It’s tough getting kids here and a full roster. But we were lucky. We have both a Senior team and Junior team and both are filled with a full 18. Not every team can do that. For Hudson not to have a Senior Team is very, very strange. Bedford’s gone. It’s not in the best state, Legion baseball, but the teams that are there are strong.”

Lunn says players need to get the right information, and develop a sense of pride for the Legion brand.

“They just need to realize that playing for your city is important,” he said. “Playing with the kids you played with, and playing for something. You’re playing for a state title, not just for yourself. That’s something a lot of kids don’t understand.”

And that leads into what the local teams chances are. In District B, with a seacoast strong Rochester, Portsmouth, and Exeter, getting a top four spot for a tourney berth won’t be easy.

“Our district is a gauntlet,” Lunn said. “(Merrimack) are a pretty solid team, they were in the tournament last year, they’ve got some depth. Exeter Dover, Rochester, always good. … Anybody that comes out of this district is ready to go.”