Minnesota American Legion Baseball turns 100

By Tim Engstrom

The program leads nation in teams

MONTEVIDEO — Minnesota American Legion Baseball leads the nation again in having the most teams in the nation this season. And this season is the 100th for the program.

This time around, the figure is at 382, one less than last season’s total. No other department reaches 300.

There is one guy who is in charge of keeping track of registration, and his name is Brandon Raymo. He is one of two vice directors on the state committee, and he is an SAL member with Montevideo Squadron 59.

Cover of the 2023 Minnesota American Legion Baseball Rulebook.
The 2023 Minnesota American Legion Baseball Rulebook.

Why is Minnesota American Legion Baseball so successful?

“We have a strong history of community-based baseball,” Raymo said. “Outstate Minnesota plays a big part where travel ball is not accessible or it is far away.”

It also helps that, in general, travel ball (or club baseball) costs more than Legion ball. Players on a lot of Legion teams don’t pay any fees because the local Legion post covers costs along with the players themselves doing fundraisers such as an annual banquet or car washes and so on.

“In Montevideo, the kids pay for a uniform, glove and shoes. That’s it,” he said.

He said Montevideo American Legion Post 59 funds the town’s Div. II Sr. team, and Montevideo VFW Post 380 funds the Div. II Jr. team. Both teams participate in the Legion Baseball program, and the Junior team won the state title last year.

Teams playing Legion Baseball are sponsored overwhelmingly by Legion posts, but a handful are sponsored either by a VFW post or their local baseball association.

This year, Minnesota flirted with 400 teams. They were around 395 before dropping down to 383, then 382.

“Teams think they will have enough players and sometimes guys get jobs or play somewhere else or decide to spend the summer at a cabin up north, so some teams have to drop out,” Raymo said.

The Apple Valley American Legion Post 1776 Color Guard escorts flags onto the baseball diamond.
The Apple Valley American Legion Post 1776 Color Guard escorts flags onto the diamond during the 2022 Minnesota American Legion Baseball Div. I State Tournament in Burnsville. The program teaches love of country and good sportsmanship.

The other vice director, Jeff Miller, said Minnesota was praised at the American Legion Spring Conference in Indianapolis.

“They said we set the example of how to run a baseball program.”

He said many state baseball committees allows mega-teams from multiple school districts in an effort to win the American Legion World Series. Minnesota seeks to have the most kids playing baseball and adheres to keeping teams to their local communities.

Miller said Minnesota also cares a lot about big and small schools. Some states have problems when one or the other side take control of the state committee and disrupts that balance.

“We don’t always get along,” Raymo said, “but there is good debate.”

Fastpitch softball for high school girls is not a national program — yet — but several departments have it. This is Minnesota’s second year.

Director Michael Arvidson said there are 28 teams registered, one more than last year.

All members of the Minnesota baseball and softball committees remind coaches to get their registration complete, and Raymo said it is more complicated than the public may imagine.

Baseball players celebrating at home plate.
An image from the new Minnesota American Legion Baseball app.

For baseball, everything is tracked digitally through the national registration system at baseball.legion.org — fees, insurance, abuse training and background check. For softball, it is done at minnesotalegionsoftball.com.

Furthermore, Minnesota state law requires coaches to undergo concussion protocol training.

Another advantage in Minnesota is the state committees for softball and baseball programs pay for the background checks and other requirements, he said, and it helps to have the Scheels St. Cloud store as official sponsor. Raymo said it prevents raising fees.
Raymo tracks all of the teams in spreadsheets and reminds fellow committee members to contact teams in their districts that have fallen behind the deadlines.

“It’s a lot of work. We will have something like 1,100 coaches this year. All those steps had to be done by June 10, and the roster deadline was June 15,” he said.

The biggest challenge, he said, is baseball coaches are busy in the spring with high school baseball, and it is hard for them to find the time to get steps done for Minnesota American Legion Baseball.

Scheels baseball advertisement
Scheels is the official sponsor of Minnesota American Legion Baseball.

Much of the reason for Minnesota standing out has been growth in Junior Legion teams. Senior Legion is 19 and under. Junior Legion is 17 and under. Division II is for teams from school districts (called “base school” in the rulebook) from schools with 10th-12th-grade enrollment of 400 or less. Division I is for the rest.

Minnesota Legion Baseball began in 1923. There was one division, and today is considered Div. I Senior. This year would be the 101st season, but COVID resulted in the cancelation of the 2020 season. That makes 2023 the 100th season. However, it is only the 97th postseason. The first postseason was played in 1926.

Did you know the Minnesota American Legion Baseball Div. I Senior State Tournament is 21 years older than the Minnesota State High School League State Baseball Tournament?

Div. II play began in 1987. Div. I Junior began in 2009. Div. II Junior began in 2017.

“Adding Junior Baseball for the rural areas six years ago was a big jump,” Raymo said. “Teams came over from VFW and Babe Ruth programs.”

He said Minnesota also treats the four state tournaments with equal importance. Champions and runners-up get the same trophies and medals, regardless of division or age group.

Image of Minnesota American Legion Baseball app on a mobile phone
To download the app, search for “Minnesota Legion Baseball” in the iPhone’s App Store or Android’s Google Play. You can find rules, scores, history and more.

A new mobile app

Minnesota American Legion Baseball this season has a new mobile app. It is the first department in The American Legion with a cellphone app of any sort.

Baseball Secretary Tim Engstrom created the app as a means to save money on printing and postage for rulebooks. Now, Minnesota American Legion Baseball and National American Legion Baseball rules, along with Major League Baseball rules, all can be found in a single place at the touch of a button.

To find it, search the app store for “Minnesota Legion Baseball” and it pops up. The app is free and has no in-app purchase.

However, it does allow teams to report scores. The app has daily scores from baseball games all around the state, and it has the rankings for each division as well as history, contact information and the Code of Sportsmanship.