American Legion Baseball
Anyone who’s ever seen a Kevin Costner movie about baseball knows that the sport is a great analogy for life. You practice, you compete, you win some, you lose some. Then you pick yourself up and start all over again.
Long before Costner was on the scene, the American Legion had that all figured out.
American Legion Baseball started in South Dakota in 1925 and became a national program a year later. The Legionnaires saw baseball as way to develop character and leadership and give youth a better understanding of the American way of life. The Legion made it one of the goals of the program to instill in all boys “a feeling of citizenship, sportsmanship, loyalty and team spirit.”
Today, nearly 100,000 team members play on more than 5,000 teams across the United States. American Legion Baseball is the most competitive baseball program available to young men up to age 18. On average, 62 percent of major-leaguers and nearly 75 percent of college players played American Legion Baseball as teenagers.
The connection between American Legion Baseball and the big leagues doesn’t go unnoticed. Each year, the American Legion World Series champions are honored at the Major League World Series. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum honors the American Legion Player of the Year with a plaque at the annual induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Chico is home to four American Legion teams. In addition to the senior team, the Chico Nuts, there are also two developmental teams, Suns A and Suns B, and a freshman team known as the Rice.
American Legion Baseball tackles an intensive schedule each summer. The Nuts play 60 to 70 games, beginning as soon as the high school baseball season is over in late May and continuing through August. Over the course of season they may find themselves traveling as far as Reno, Napa, Eureka and Roseburg, Ore.
All home games are played at Hooker Oak Park at Doryland Field and are free of charge to the public.
There is also a separate “fall ball” program that is slightly less competitive, allowing players a chance to improve their skills and work out at new positions.
The expansion to four teams has occurred only in the last few years and mirrors a similar trend nationwide. Steve Silva, president of the board of directors, feels the growth of the program was warranted and that it was a good fit for the town.
“This is a baseball loving community,” Silva said, citing the popular success of the Chico Heat and Chico State Wildcat baseball teams and noting all the folks who play recreational softball.
With the exception of a modest stipend paid to the coaches, Chico’s American Legion Baseball program is run entirely by volunteers. Growing the number of teams has meant increasing the budget as well.
Silva gives a lot of the credit to the community for supporting its fundraisers, including an annual banquet each March. Last month’s event featured catering donated by Outback Steakhouse, a live auction by Scott Mansfield, and an appearance by special guest Vida Blue. Royal Courtain served as master of ceremonies.
Each team member is responsible for some fundraising, namely by bringing in business sponsorships or selling the ads that appear in the team’s program.
“We’re obviously always looking for ways to nurture relationships with businesses and individuals who believe in what we’re doing,” Silva explained, adding that the organization has established an endowment fund through the North Valley Community Foundation.
Silva says the American Legion Baseball board recognizes that it has a hand out for support nearly year-round. Its members are exploring ways in which the team can give something back to the community, such as by donating time to Habitat for Humanity.
“We feel that will be a great learning opportunity for these young men who are largely capable of leadership qualities. It will be good exposure for them and good experience for them to help a service group."