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Lebanon Post 22 Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Its Players
Jeff Quimby, of Claremon,t relaxes amid the commotion between innings outside the Lebanon Post 22 dugout during their game with Concord Post 21 at Lebanon High School on Thursday. Post 22 has only one player from Lebanon this year, and is drawing from Claremont, Newport and Hanover to fill out its roster. Valley News - James M. Patterson Purchase photo reprints »
Post 22's Alex Wesoja of tries to evade Concord Post 21 catcher Chris Fournier by hurdling him at the plate, but is called out. Valley News - James M. Patterson
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Lebanon — There’s a good reason why a number of the players that dot the Lebanon Post 22 Senior American Legion roster are from out of town. “They treat us well up here,” said Bryar Rouillard, one of five Claremont residents on the team.
While many Legion teams on both sides of the river are strained to fill the roster, 45 tried out for the Lebanon junior and senior teams.
“It was tough, but we had to cut 10 kids or so,” assistant coach Tim Spanos said.
Once the players are chosen for the big team, the Lebanon American Legion Post 22 steps in. And those guys take their support of the baseball program seriously.
According to Spanos, the Post 22 budget of $15,000 is the highest operating budget in New Hampshire.
And the players notice. “Some of the players in other towns have to pay around $300 to play,” said Claremont’s Cam Blewitt. “Not only do we not have to pay, they give us money for meals when we’re on the road.”
Meals are not the only thing Post 22 provides. All bats, multiple uniforms and bat bags are provided, as well as all transportation.
“All we ask of them is stay committed to the team, and play hard and clean,” said head coach Rob Woodward. “The Legion gives us everything we ask for. The Post really cares about baseball.”
Spanos remembers the day the uniforms and jackets were passed out, and how some of the kids reacted.
“It was like Christmas morning,” he said. “I know a couple of the kids slept in their uniforms that night. They get treated here just like they do in the Cape Cod League.
“I’ve been here for seven years. It just amazes me. What an exercise!”
While the senior program has a budget of $15,000, there’s no scrimping for the Junior squad either, where another $15,000 is needed. And the task of raising the $30,000 falls in the hands of Pete St. Pierre and the baseball committee. St. Pierre took over as the team manager after long-time — and highly regarded — manager Bill Broughton died last year.
“We just ran a golf tournament and raised about $10,000,” St. Pierre said. “We fundraise all year round. We want to take care of our players fully. We don’t want them going to away games in their cars. Their safety is a primary concern. We rent the transportation and hire drivers.”
The 595 members of the Post take great interest in the baseball program, which helps in the fundraising. “Our Post is doing well, and the members really care about the baseball program.
They care so much that any player that moves on to college will get a $1,000 scholarship from the post,” said St. Pierre.
“We give them $250 a year as long as they can show each year they are still in college.”
And Post 22 does this for a senior team that has just one Lebanon native, Matt Owens. While Owens is the only Lebanon lad on the senior team, there are many younger Lebanon players on the junior team, coached by Dustin Broughton.
Lebanon dropped a 10-5 decision to Concord Thursday night to fall to 0-4.
“Our pitching has been good, but there are other parts of our game that hasn’t been so good,” said Ben Bates, of Newport, who was 4-1 with a .419 batting average for Kimball Union Academy this spring. He was named Lakes Region league pitching MVP.
“We haven’t been getting timely hitting,” added Claremont’s Blewitt, who played for Southern New Hampshire University. He also noted the difference between college ball and Legion ball.
“I look forward to this all year,” he said. “This is pretty intense and more physical than in college.”
New Hampshire American Legion ball is unique to the area. In the Granite State, Legion ball is a wooden bat league with all games scheduled for nine innings.
In Vermont, metal bats are allowed and all weekday games and doubleheader games are seven innings. New Hampshire does not schedule any doubleheaders, but Spanos said that with all the recent rainouts, doubleheaders may have to be scheduled.
The switch from metal bats during the high school season to wooden bats in Legion baseball has not been an easy thing for some of the players.
“Bryar (Rouillard) is having a hard time making the adjustment,” said his father, Scott. “It’s been a struggle for him.”
Like all sports, parents play an integral part. Some have kids playing on both the junior and senior teams, which means a lot of travel for practices and games. But Rick Hussey makes the trips from Claremont and is happy to do it.
“You know, this a great program,” he said. “All the kids get along and are really looked after. If someone breaks a bat, the Legion just gives him another one.
“The instruction is super and I love this program so much that I sit through three-hour practices. And I know that all the at-bats the Claremont kids get will help them next spring in high school.”
Today is “Salute to Veterans Day,” with the juniors playing Concord at 11 a.m. followed by the seniors taking on Merrimack. The veterans will be honored between games.