Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Summer baseball's future on West Plains may have different look

Crunch Time

 


The 2014 American Legion Baseball season unfortunately finished with a sour taste when it came to the AA teams from Cheney and Medical Lake.

Despite solid finishes and winning records, they were left to watch as last place teams took their place in the postseason.

It made one wonder — until some questions were asked in the right circles. The answers, too, were not as simple, but certainly cleared up some of the mystery.Questions as to why Cheney —which finished 7-4 in Federal League play and Medical Lake right behind at 9-5 —hung up the cleats and mitts while American League teams Shadle Park (1-9) and West Valley (3-7) played on.

But according the Spokane ALB president, Andy Franklin the teams that were steaming over their snub would have known what was going on. They just had to have attended meetings in the off-season.

“What happens is we have a fall coaches’ meeting to discuss the upcoming season,” Franklin said. Cheney and Medical Lake never showed up.

Cheney High School head baseball coach Mike Cagle, who turns general manager for summer ball, turning over the coach’s box to Kadeem Smalls, admitted as much.

“If you don’t show up for a meeting, you don’t have a voice and it’s hard to complain,” Cagle said. Neither he, or ML coach Kerry Kelly attended a single meeting, Cagle said.

Federal League teams got two berths with Freeman and Colville advancing, while the American League sent all seven —from 11-1 Mount Spokane to 1-9 Shadle Park and the National League four teams. But both Freeman, (14-2) and Colville, the Federal’s No. 2 seed at 11-3 both played —and lost —in loser out games.

One former Legion baseball official who asked not to be named, said that the playoff structure was known, even before 2013-14 off-season meetings.

The American League was formed with teams who opted to play a more aggressive and lengthy schedule. Mt. Spokane and Gonzaga Prep played 50 games this summer, Franklin said. The hope was to form this league in order to combat the steady drain on players from various club and elite summer baseball programs.

The American and National League—or Legion divisions as they might be better described —were also generally comprised of bigger schools in an attempt to equalize play, Franklin explained.

Divisions are built on the projected talent level found on a team, Franklin said. “We try to balance the league so that they are competitive; obviously it’s not always perfect.”

Geography is not the focal point of how Legion does its schedule. “It’s strength,” Franklin said.

But it’s geography that might be a bigger issue when it comes to American Legion, and whether West Plains teams — and several others Cagle said —remain in the fold in 2015, or become independent.

“Our travel requirements Trail, (British Columbia, Canada), Colville, Pullman are far and above the National and American league travel schedules,” Kelly wrote in an email. “ Why is Canada even represented in this region?”

Spokane American Legion is the closest program for Trail, Franklin said. Canada does not have Legion baseball so they often choose to play American Legion for the better competition, he added.

Team travel to Canada doesn’t require passports or other problematic ID for kids, but involves having letters from parents or guardians allowing them to temporarily cross the border.

“The last thing summer coaches want is more administrative issues,” Cagle said. “They deal with that enough in the spring.”

Both Cagle and Kelly share the same philosophy that while the postseason carrot hangs on the end of the bat, what is most important in the summer is skills development.

“In the summer, for some it’s going to the state Legion tournament and maybe winning that,” Cagle said. “For me, it’s going through the summer and having kids learn to play better baseball.”

“To be quite honest most of the kids are ready for the season to be over,” Kelly said. “When you think about it these boys have been going hard at baseball since the beginning of spring sports.”

To that end American Legion Baseball, synonymous with summer high school level baseball for decades since its founding in 1925, might not be the path Cheney, Medical Lake, and others travel in 2015, Cagle hinted.

“We want to get 25-30 games for our kids,” Cagle said. He also wants to have more latitude on when or when not to play games.

Cagle is a big supporter of athletes playing as many sports as possible in high school, “I want to make sure our kids are at football when they need to be.”

Cheney would probably lose its Woodbat Tournament hosting slot, but Medical Lake, with one of the few lighted fields in the region, might not.

Stay tuned. The normally placid off-season for local baseball likely has waves ahead.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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