In some communities, American Legion baseball is dying.
As other options emerge, whether it be year-round training for another sport or just another summer league to play baseball, participation declines and rosters dwindle. Some programs cobble together a team only to find out that they have to forfeit games or withdraw from postseason tournaments. Others fold altogether.
And then there are the exceptions. Blackhawk is certainly one of them.
Legion baseball continues to thrive in Blackhawk. Not only is manager Bob Amalia and his staff able to attract a large number of players, they are able to attract the top talent in the area.
The results have showed on the diamond and this summer was no exception.
Blackhawk finished the 2013 Legion season with a 26-6 record. It won the Beaver County championship and Region 6 championship. It reached the Pennsylvania State Tournament for the seventh time since 2000.
The state tournament got off to a rocky start for Blackhawk. With their ace, University of Louisville recruit Brendan McKay, on the mound in the opening game of the eight-team double-elimination tournament, Blackhawk fell to Region 4 champion out of York County, Spring Grove, 2-1.
"I'd be telling a lie if I said it didn't take the wind out of our sails," assistant coach Joe Basile said. "We just didn't catch a lot of breaks, a lot of things didn't go our way, but that is baseball. I was still certain [after game one] that the kids were going to come back."
Blackhawk did bounce back in an elimination game and knocked out the Region 5 champion out of Wyoming Valley, Greater Pittston, 4-2. With McKay slated to pitch game four, the path to a potential sixth appearance in a national tournament was close, but Blackhawk fell, 4-0, in game three to Region 3 champion out of Chester County, Downingtown.
Assistant coach Lou Wolber compares making postseason tournaments to making a bowl game in college football. The players were able to extend their summer of baseball into August and between the Region 6 tournament and state tournament, Blackhawk played eight extra games.
"It is like another season of baseball," Basile said. "It was extra games at that high level of competition, it just makes the kids better. Even the young kids watching all this on the bench, they get another season of practice, it is vital."
Under Amalia, the Blackhawk Legion program is all about making players better. Amalia also coaches the Blackhawk high school team.
"We are playing together in the summer and that translates to good chemistry for our varsity team," pitcher Cody Bain said. "Next year we are going to have a lot of guys coming back, we are going to have a really good chance at making a run at WPIALs."
Even the players coming from college make an impact on the Legion team. Players such as Adam Rousseau, Brendan Kearney, Nick Martin and Joe Lopez, all who came back from college, were invaluable members of the team, not just for what they did during games but also in practice.
"Those kids who came back, they taught these other kids how to win," Basile said. "The younger kids improved so much from the high school season, they learned so much better from these leaders. It is one thing for Bob and the staff to say this is what it's about, it's another thing for these kids to come back from college and show them what it is about and set a real good example."
That is just another reason why Legion baseball continues to thrive at Blackhawk.
"The kids just gravitate to the program," Basile said. "There is a lot of competition but also a lot of opportunity. Bob just has an incredible program that draws the kids and the community comes and supports it."
First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM