July 19, 2024

American Legion Baseball is back in Buckeye

After 25 years, American Legion Baseball is back in Buckeye.

Once a staple in the area, the sporting event has returned as an opportunity for group mentorship, sportsmanship skills and community fun.

Richard Hopkins, one of team coaches working with head coach Robert Garcia, has been involved with the program in Buckeye since the 1970s. The team, the Post 53 Aces, is the Post’s main youth outreach program, Hopkins said. The goal is to instill lifelong skills and values. 

“It gives them something to do and helps build character,” Hopkins said. “It just teaches teamwork and responsibility, and we really push for respect for the game and the other team.”

The Post 53 Aces practicing for their first season. [Buckeye Community Veterans Service Center]

A diverse roster for American Legion Baseball

Jay Daugherty is a 16-year-old student at Odyssey Institute High School where he plays for the school team. Daugherty has played baseball since he was 7 and, when his Dad told him about the American Legion team, he was eager to join.

“I got into it and went to a couple practices,” Daugherty said. “Everyone is cool there and the coaches are really nice.”

Hopkins said some of the players — ranging from age 13 to 16 — are involved with school teams or have prior experience in little league, like Daugherty. Others, however, have never played baseball before. It’s an opportunity for all the players to support and learn from one another. Because some of the teams they are up against have older players, it pushes the younger Buckeye players to sharpen their skills.

“They have to learn to adjust and do things to be successful,” Hopkins said. “When you’re out there, you’re teammates. You do what’s best for the team. … It helps them become better people because they know they have to get along, to work as a team, otherwise they can’t win.”

The Post 53 Aces play against Yuma on June 22. [Erin Kuiper, InBuckeye]

Starting from scratch

The team met every Tuesday and Thursday to practice and played double headers on Saturday evenings. Although its competitive season ended Saturday against Yuma at Buckeye High School, the summer program will pick up again next year. Yuma and Buckeye are the only two American Legion teams in the district, which Yuma will represent at the playoffs. 

The squad struggled against Yuma, a team that was older and had more experience, Daugherty said, but he appreciated the opportunity to be challenged and pushed.

“I like the competition and it helps you get better,” he said.

Having many younger players on his team also gives Daugherty a chance to be a mentor to his teammates and learn leadership skills.

“I get to learn a lot of leadership, taking charge of what to do and what not to do and what to do in certain situations,” he said. 

'A heck of a lot of fun'

Hopkins said he and the other coaches are looking into extracurricular activities for the boys to continue playing through the fall, especially for those who are not involved with their school’s baseball team.

Although the program once was a long-standing fixture in Buckeye in the 70s, 80s and 90s, this new team is in its infancy of revitalizing the program. In 1998 when Hopkins was coach, he said the team often played 26 games in one summer. There once were about 40 teams in two local leagues. When Hopkins coached the team in 1974, he said it was the only summer team. As such, it would attract top college and professional prospects. 

As the program builds again, Hopkins said he looks forward to seeing how the boys and community benefit. 

“It just helps the boys become a more rounded person,” he said. “Plus, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.”

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