Playing Legion ball a great honor
I have enjoyed reading personal reflections on American Legion Baseball. I am writing this on the Fourth of July. I am thankful to the American Legion for the opportunity it provided me a long time ago. Before going into my reflections, we should review what the American Legion is. The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness and committed to mentoring and sponsoring youth programs. Thanks goodness for us they sponsor baseball! As a veteran Navy submariner, I fully appreciate what veterans have done, and are doing, for our country.
Several weeks ago, Mark Skubinna submitted his recollections of his American Legion experiences with Shadle Park’s team sponsored by Shadle Center/Fidelity Savings. It brought to mind many memories for me. Instead of reflecting only on events, I would also like to acknowledge the many people I interfaced with who were associated with American Legion baseball.
I had the privilege of playing three summers of American Legion baseball in 1971, 1972, and 1973 for Gonzaga Prep’s team sponsored by American Italian Club. Back then each high school was sponsored by a business or organization. There were six high schools from the City League and six high schools from the Border League (later becoming the GSL). American Legion is where we went head to head with the two leagues combined. All games were played at night at Shadle Park’s Al K. Jackson Field. Not until 1973 were there any high school baseball playoffs during the school year beyond the City-Border District playoff. We had to wait until American Legion to play beyond teams in our district. Therefore, winning Districts and Regionals in summer American Legion was very important.
As I look back, I recall two memorable games we played against Shadle Center in the Regional Playoffs in 1971 and 1972.
In 1971 we “lost” two players to the professional draft, Ron Lollis and Ernie Pupo. We still had a good team that challenged Shadle Center for the Regional Championship. That year was Shadle’s year, however. I particularly remember Roger Dirkes having an outstanding game. That great Shadle team also included Wes Graham, Steve Sanborn, Mark Skubinna, and Dan Armitage, among others. All of these guys went on to play college and/or semi-pro baseball.
In 1972, we had another chance to compete with Shadle at Regionals. We faced a great Shadle team in the quarterfinal game, the winner to later play Wenatchee for the Regional Title. McCarthy Management (Lewis and Clark) also had a strong team and was in the mix. That year Shadle was coached by Mr. Bill Farr, whom I played for in the Babe Ruth league. Shadle’s team consisted of many players, who went on to play professional or college ball: Ted Farr, Ron Cerenzia, Dave Barnes, Craig Mitchell, Larry Guy, Ron Brooks, Keith Snyder, Scott Mullenix (football) and Larry Poffenroth. Our Gonzaga Prep team was coached by Mr. Roger Felice and Mr. Nick Scarpelli Jr. and was similarly loaded with future college players: Ron Hare, Rollie Byrnes, Ray Mockel, Jerry Lollis, John Pettoello, my brother John Ryan, and me. My oldest friend, Doug VanDyk is now a judge in Oregon. Dan Brown, Denny Rowse, Greg Hamad, and Bob Carnel were integral to our success.
Most of us had summer jobs. My brother, John, had worked all day at Inland Foundry and arrived at the game tired and still covered with tar, oil, and sweat. He ended up throwing a one-hitter as we defeated that super Shadle team.
We next swept McCarthy Management and then took on Wenatchee for the Regional Title and the right to go to the state tournament in Kent, Washington. 1972 must have been our year as we beat Wenatchee. John Pettoello had a great day as the headlines the next day stated “Pettoello Douses Blaze” referring to him shutting down a late Wenatchee rally sealing the victory and our road to the state tournament.
The 1972 state tournament was Gonzaga Prep’s chance to repeat the success it found in 1970 when, coached by Nick August and lead by Mike Davey (GU and Atlanta Braves), Gene Troy, Rob and Frank Steidl, and Roger Frucci, it reached the championship game against Yakima. My brother pitched that 1970 championship game as a sophomore and lost it 5-1. Well, in 1972 we ended up in a respectable 5th place against essentially all-star teams.
Other American Legion players from that era I had the honor of competing with, and who I came into contact with outside of American Legion in one form or another were:
Lewis and Clark: Chris Camp, Bob Aoki, Ken Aoki, and Ron Barnes.
North Central: Jay Duncan, Del Sandberg, Dan Elias, Ron Kelley, Rob Sivret, Jim Snell, and Mike Hare.
Rogers: Dave Wood, Jerry Thew, Bob Burns, and Bob Arnold.
Mead: Steve Corn and Denny Layton.
Shadle: Paul Jensen, Jim Brown, Chris Laughlin, Dave Fehler, Steve Nelson, Dan Henderson, Mike Henley, and Rick Stillar.
U-High: Tony Higley, Roy Jacobson, and Neil Boardman.
Central Valley: Tom Jobb and Brad Darrow.
West Valley: Lloyd Johnson.
Ferris: Keith Swensen, Dave Vaughn, Paul Kitzke, Kevin Robinson, and Bruce Bergman.
I’m sorry if I left anyone out. We all took different paths in life, but for those magical nights at Shadle’s Al K. Jackson field, we walked the same path. The memories have faded a little, but the friends I made last forever.