Sandusky American Legion Post 83 has been one of the standard bearers for legion baseball in the state of Ohio for years.
For a legion program that has sent players to Major League Baseball, Post 83 hit its pinnacle in 2008 and 2009 — all under the guidance of Perkins coach Ray Neill — when it won back-to-back state titles at the American Legion state baseball tournament.
Talents like Andrew Chafin (Western Reserve 2008), Michael Hamann (Danbury 2009), Brennan Smith (Perkins 2007), Kyle Hallock (Perkins 2007), Spencer Bryant (Perkis 2010) and Xavier Turner (Sandusky 2012) were featured on the lineup card during a span from 2004-11, that saw Sandusky make the state baseball tournament in seven out of eight tries.
Kids wanted to be part of Post 83. They fought hard on a daily basis for spots in the field.
Now, the once mighty program is showing a chink in its armor.
Summer jobs, injuries, you name it, has led to Post 83 falling on some hard times.
After this weekend's River Bandits Tournament of Champions in Napoleon, Sandusky stands in unfamiliar territory at 8-11.
“As of right now, we're not living up to that,” Post 83 coach Bobby Palsa said of the program's high standard of excellence. “I still feel that we have a very good baseball team, and I feel like our best baseball is ahead of us.
“But this summer has definitely been stressful,” he added. “I've never had to deal with that in my experience with Post 83 as a coach, as far as, having kids not showing up or maybe not being able to field a team.”
Who has time for 30 baseball games in the summer now? With football, needing money to pay for college and girlfriends, sometimes baseball isn't a big priority.
Post 83 won the Jadwin Memorial Tournament in Chillicothe last season. It went 1-3 with a heavily depleted roster on June 19-21. Sandusky took just 10 players to the tournament.
Desperate for players, Palsa reached out to locals Kyle Young (Perkins), Davis Dubbert (Perkins) and Tyler Puckrin (Perkins) for help, as he was missing six or seven of his regulars.
“It's weird having part-time guys,” Port Clinton's Trey Gluth said, one of a select few players that has been in the dugout throughout the summer. “We had guys that had to fill in for us and did a great job. But when you're playing with different guys every day, it's tough to get any team chemistry rolling.
“Going into last weekend, we only four or five guys that could pitch,” he added. “That's tough going into a full weekend of baseball when you only have so many guys. You never know who's going to show up.”
Gluth, a three-year veteran of the squad, has become a de facto captain for Post 83. Following a 4-3 loss to a three-win Ashland team Wednesday, he stood up and expressed some displeasure with the way the team had played.
“Every team needs that one guy to be that, if you're going to be successful,,” Palsa said of Gluth becoming the leader. “Coaches can only motivate so much. But when your teammate gets in your face and wants you to do better, and wants you to succeed, then it means a little bit more.”
Two of the team's top pitchers and hitters, Perkins' Luke Fraley (Perkins) and Braun Miller (Perkins) were absent a large chunk of the early schedule. The Pirates made a run to the state semifinals in Division II, before both players headed off to Oklahoma as two of 20 Ohio players to compete in the Heartland Baseball Classic.
Their absence was understood. Other's not so much.
“For me, it's a touchy subject,” Fraley said. “Why are you going to say 'Yes, I'll play,' then turn around and be like 'I got something else to do.' If you're going to do that, do what you want, but don't bother coming back.”
Zach Butler (Plymouth 2013) and Alex Waltz (Amherst) both suffered season-ending injuries. Mason McWilliams and Ethan Caudill are two Seneca East kids that report when it's their turn to pitch.
Work schedules tend to be the next biggest culprit for other random absences.
The Ashland game saw Post 83 dress 14 of its 18 players – the most its dressed all summer.
“Now that we got our team back, I think we can start settling in and counting on guys to be here,” Gluth said. “None of us blame Luke (Fraley) and Braun (Miller) for going to Oklahoma, I mean, who would miss that.
“But the work situation is definitely affecting summer baseball,” he added. “Having to pay for college is a big deal. You got to do what you got to do at times. But for guys like me, it's a goal of mine to play college baseball, which is why I came here.”
Gluth played for Ohio Wesleyan University this past spring after graduating from Port Clinton in 2013.
“I think the benefits are still there if you take advantage of them,” Fraley said if the benefits of playing legion baseball were dwindling. “There's kids that are great, and then there's kids that really don't seem to want to try.”
Added Miller, now also in his third summer, like Gluth, with Post 83, “My first year here was really competitive,” he said. “Everybody was playing for a spot to play. It's just changed. It's more relaxed now.”
Sandusky has had only one real game where its bats erupted. Timely hits with runners in scoring position have been an issue, as of late.
But with arms like Miller, Fraley, Caudill and McWilliams, an Ohio University commit who should be available for the postseason after resting his arm, there's no telling how far its pitching and defense, alone, could take Post 83.
“The most important thing for the whole season is that we win our district and we get a chance to go down to state,” Palsa said. “That's the goal for the summer. Everything leading up to that doesn't mean anything. If we go down there and our record is 15-15, we accomplished our goal.”