It was frustrating, made him mad and feel bad for others and the district, certainly embarrassing a bit and left longtime Springfield Post 176 baseball manager Al Vaxmonsky vastly disappointed when his American Legion summer team had to fold up and stop playing 10 games into the 2022 season.
The team shut down because it was not going to have enough players to continue the schedule. Springfield even struggled to get enough players (nothing new for summer Legion teams in recent years) for those 10 contests.
“In the end, we had no choice but to shut down,” Vaxmonsky said. “We tried, but we just didn’t have the players.”
Springfield has long been a perennial District 17 power under Vaxmonsky, winning the league-tournament championship in 2020.
Post 176, and other area Legion teams of high-school and college freshman-age players, have found it a big challenge in recent years attracting players for a variety of reasons. There is big competition for players from travel and college summer teams; there is an apathy among potential players of not wanting to be involved with and play a busy Legion schedule of four nine-inning games a week, and sometimes more if there are multiple makeup games; Legion baseball conflicts with summer jobs, vacations and college visits; and high-school coaches for the most part don’t promote or encourage their players to play Legion ball.
Instead, many high-school coaches strongly suggest their returning players join summer travel ball teams, frowning on what they incorrectly believe is an inferior quality of Legion ball, despite rarely watching any Legion games in person.
“The deck is stacked against us and we are fighting to survive,” Vaxmonsky said. “It’s a big challenge.”
Vaxmonsky isn’t alone. Every other District 17 Legion summer manager echoes the same, suggesting that travel ball has been like a cancer to Legion baseball and that the attitude of summer community teams, which Legion squads are, is going in a different direction, considering the ever-growing popularity of travel ball.
The question now for Springfield is where the team goes from here. Will Vaxmonsky return as manager? He’s thinking that through. Will the team resume next summer, and will the manager, Vaxmonsky or someone else, have any better luck rounding up enough players?
A big worry regarding local Legion baseball is what happened this summer to a well-run organization like Springfield could happen to others, and it already has in the past. At one time prior to travel baseball in the area, there were 16 District 17 Legion teams in the Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria communities of Northern Virginia. This summer there were seven, with only five a couple of years ago.
Legion summer baseball used to be the only game in town, attracting big crowds and college recruiters. Players were actually turned away.
Like Vaxmonsky, other District 17 managers explain it has been for years now a busy and diligent year-round process attempting to attract and interest players to join Legion teams.
We’ll see what happens.
– Dave Facinoli