American Legion baseball has been a fixture in the United States for more than 90 years and provided an avenue for players to not only hone their skills, but form bonds that will last beyond the diamond.
Despite the influx of travel baseball teams and AAU squads in the past two decades, Albemarle Post 74 has continued to flourish as one of the top baseball programs in Virginia.
During the program’s 25-year history, Post 74 has captured six Virginia American Legion championships, including state titles in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
“Everyone knows us in the state,” Albemarle Post 74 manager Eric Miles said. “Everyone I know that’s played [Legion baseball] has fond memories. Players of mine from our 2017 state championship team still say it was the best experience they had playing baseball.”
Miles credits William Monroe baseball coach Mike Maynard for setting the standard for the Post 74 program during his time as the head coach.
“Maynard put together some quality teams and quality seasons,” Miles said. “He won three Virginia state championships in a row during his tenure. In addition to countless district titles. Given the fact that Post 74 has won four of the last six Virginia state championships draws a bit of attention.”
Catcher Jonathan Sexton headlines a list of six returning players that have tasted success with Albemarle Post 74. The recent William Monroe High School graduate has played the past five seasons for the team and won three state titles. Next spring, he will play collegiately at Bridgewater College.
Chase Miller, a recent Albemarle High School graduate, has played three years for Post 74, while Covenant’s Wes Arrington, a University of Lynchburg signee, and Jacob Hoadley are back for their second seasons. Scott Reid, a former Albemarle standout who now plays at Christopher Newport University and Carrson Atkins, who played at The Miller School and now at the University of Lynchburg, are back for a second summer of Legion baseball.
Miles said having experienced players is imperative to help teach the younger guys what Legion baseball is all about.
“I know that it doesn’t sound like a lot, but Legion baseball is more than about baseball,” Miles said. “It’s one program, like boys state, sponsored by our American Legion organization that teaches our youth and Americanism. It’s about competing. It’s about teamwork and teammates and it’s about respect. It’s a program I’m passionate about and why I coach.”
There’s plenty of familiar faces for Miles in terms of the newcomers as well. Miles, who coached at Covenant this past spring, has players such as Marcus Bunch, Chaz Harvey and Mason Mitchell on the squad this summer.
In addition, Charlottesville High School’s Evan Baumgartner and Monticello’s Cameron Critzer have been impressive in the early going with their versatility on the diamond. Nate Burton and Ian Haney, who are fresh off winning a Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state championship with The Miller School, have dazzled in the field and with their baseball IQ.
Nathan Harlow and Holden Merone from Albemarle have been “hard workers and dependable players” for Post 74 this summer. William Monroe’s Logan Jones has added depth on the hill.
“Because we play three to four times a week, everyone needs to contribute,” Miles said. “That means pitching, throwing strikes and getting outs. Baseball doesn’t change at any level in that regard.”
Quality starting pitching has been something Miles’ team has showcased in the early going. Arrington, Burton, Haney and Jones give Albemarle plenty of depth in the starting rotation. Mitchell, Harvey, Baumgartner, Atkins and Merone provide a wealth of options to come in and close out games.
Reid and Atkins provide impact players both on the hill and in the field. Miles said Reid, who primarily pitched at CNU, is excited to have an opportunity to swing the bat again this summer as a position player. Atkins continues to be the leader in the outfield as a defensive stalwart and could see some time on the hill.
Sexton is a calming force behind the plate and one of the team’s top bats. Mitchell, Harvey, Burton, Miller, Baumgartner, Reid and Jones will rotate time in the infield and are all quality defenders.
In the outfield, Bunch, Hoadley, Critzer, Harlow, Merone, Haney and Atkins bring added depth and quality at the plate and defensively.
“I’m a firm believer in coaching ball players,” Miles said. “I don’t like pigeon-holding players into specific positions. Roles and positions change with every team, embrace it and be a dude.”
Early results are promising for Albemarle Post 74, which took a respectable 3-2 record in Wednesday night’s road game at Orange Post 156, including an impressive 16-8 road victory over Spotsylvania Post 320 on Tuesday night.
The offensive explosion made up for a three-game stretch where they mustered just one run.
“I’m still learning about our players and our players are learning about each other,” Miles said. “We’re gelling and everyone is figuring out their roles. We have a great group of guys. They seem to really enjoy being around one another.”
Miles said that camaraderie is something that will carry with them beyond this season.
“One thing I preach to every team is you will always remember the guys you share the dugout with,” he said. “Scores and records fade over time, but teammates will be remembered. My goal is always for the players to form life-long friendships and have a summer full of memories.”
Albemarle Post 74 is gearing up for a long stretch of games to close out their season. Miles believes the sky is the limit for this group as they look to bring home a district title.
“My expectations for this team aren’t any different than any other team I’ve coached,” he said. “That is compete, day in and day out. Compete in practice, compete in games, push yourself to get better. My job is to enable that, bring a bucket of baseballs to practice and rill on fundamentals. Nothing fancy, just perfect the basics and then go out and compete.”