SIDNEY — Sidney Post 217 American Legion baseball coach Jim Koewler has had a difficult time letting go of the outstanding season he and his squad recently put together. He’s going to want to talk about it for a long time to come.
And there’s something else he’s perfectly willing to talk about — how great Legion baseball is, the benefits players can gain from it, and how it should be their first choice.
A former Legion player himself, he was among those almost devastated when there was no Legion baseball in Sidney several years back. And he wanted to bring the program back to its former glory.
He did just that, too, culminating in a third-place finish in the State Legion Tournament last month.
“There are a lot of kids out there who pay a lot of money to be on these travel and elite teams,” Koewler said. “And they can play Legion baseball for a hundred bucks. And it’s great baseball. A lot of games and a lot of exposure for the kids who hope to go on and play in college.”
And several of his past and present players agreed with him.
Josh Nixon, who played shortstop and pitched for Post 217 this season, played on travel teams the past two seasons before joining the local Legion baseball program this year. And he doesn’t regret it.
“If you love the game like I do, Legion ball is the way to go,” said Nixon, who will play at the University of Dayton next season. “When you play on the travel teams, it’s good competition. But they usually play only on weekends. With the Legion, I got to play baseball every day. And we had a great time this year.”
Dalton Bollinger, a standout at Riverside, said his Legion baseball experience in Sidney was a springboard to a Division I scholarship. He will be entering his junior season with the University of Toledo baseball program.
“I think playing Legion ball was a big factor,” said Bollinger, the grandson of Koewler. “A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time, and that’s what it was. When I was like 12 or 13 years old, I played in a junior Legion program in Marysville and I figured I would just continue with that program all the way through. But when Sidney got its Legion team back, it was a no-brainer, playing that close to home.
“When you play that kind of ball, you not only get to play in a lot of different places, but you get a lot of exposure, too,” he added. “And with the kind of schedule the Legion team plays, it really does help you get used to the college pace.”
Jacob Wenning is another former Post 217 player who is sold on the benefits of American Legion baseball. A Versailles High School graduate, Wenning tried the travel teams, and says he enjoyed that brand of baseball. But there was a legacy to live up to.
“I enjoyed the travel teams, but my grandpa was a Legion member in Osgood,” Wenning said. “So I wanted to play Legion baseball. So I came over here (Sidney) and it’s been a great experience. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had playing baseball.”
And he says it also helped him land a college offer — he played last season for Heidelberg University.
Another Bollinger, Dakota, is the younger brother of Dalton. Dakota was a key member of this year’s Legion squad, and at the banquet Monday night, one of the guest speakers was Tyler Mott, the head coach at Ohio Wesleyan. Bollinger will be playing for Mott next spring.
“I don’t think there will be anything new to me when I play at Ohio Wesleyan next season because of the experience I had with the Legion team,” said Bollinger. “I think it gets you ready for that next step in your career.”
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818