Omaha, Neb., Westside Post 1 opened Day 2 of the 2014 American Legion World Series (ALWS) in Shelby, N.C., with a 9-6 win against Chico, Calif. Nebraska is now 2-0 in the pool play, while California is 0-1.
Nebraska rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the top of the sixth inning by scoring eight runs with two outs to take and hold the lead against California.
“We know we were being a little lack of aggressive in the beginning of the game, playing a little more timid than we normally do,” said Nebraska second baseman Mike Waldron. “Then we took all the fears out of the game and just got after it. We strung a few hits together and capitalized on some plays that they (California) didn’t make.”
“We have been capable of doing that (making a comeback) all season, so we knew we could do it again,” said Nebraska first baseman Jake Meyers. “So we got together as a team and kept rolling. Our hitting is very contagious.”
Watching the game from the stands was former Omaha Post 1 player D.J. Rezac, president of KB Building Services, a commercial cleaning company that has sponsored the Nebraska team since 2008.
Rezac played for Post 1 from 1985-1989, holding the highest batting average – .492 – for the past 25 years until Jake Meyers recently broke it. Rezac was in the stands with his wife, Lisa, who used to watch him play Legion ball in high school, and his five kids. His three oldest boys are bat boys for the team, and his daughter made signs cheering them on.
“When I was playing Legion Baseball, I didn’t realize how much The American Legion gives to their players,” Rezac said. “But as I grew up I recognized it and thought, ‘What is my role now?’ My role is to give back, and that’s why I sponsor the team. You can donate money to things, but you support it with your feet, your time and energy and you become part of the culture.”
Like many players, Rezac said he enjoyed playing Legion Baseball because of the friendships that form and last. “When we (Post 1) won the Central Plains Regional, I received about 20 texts from old teammates that I played with congratulating me," he said. "They said, ‘Way to go. We couldn’t make it as a team, but you’re making it as a sponsor.’
“I always tell the players that their not going to recognize this now, but it’s the journey and the relationships that you will look back on for the rest of your life. I’m living proof of that.”
During Game 5, Medal of Honor recipient and retired U.S. Army Col. Bruce Crandall watched 2013 ALWS champions Brooklawn, N.J., Post 72 beat Jacksonville, Fla., Post 88 9-2.
Crandall was awarded the Medal of Honor in February 2007 for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang on Nov. 14, 1965, during the Vietnam War. He repeatedly flew an unarmed helicopter into enemy fire for more than 14 hours to bring ammunition and supplies and to evacuate wounded U.S. troops. Overall, Crandall flew 22 missions that day. The 2002 film, “We Were Soldiers,” was based off the Battle of Ia Drang. Actor Greg Kinnear played Crandall in the movie.
Crandall lives in Manchester, Ore., and was an All-American high school baseball player with a batting average of .600. He went into the military service to play baseball because “the military was the place for me to do it,” he said. But he tore his rotator cuff from throwing hand grenades during basic training, ending his dream of playing professionally. Hear more about how Crandall received the Medal of Honor here.
New Jersey is now 2-0 in the pool play Series and Florida is 0-2.
“It’s awesome being back here after last year's championship win; there’s no place like Shelby,” said New Jersey right fielder Francis Kinsey. “All season it has been our goal to get back here and win it. It’s big to come in here and win two games in a row, especially with the pool play format. Our goal was to win games but to keeps runs down from the other teams because that’s what it comes down to later.”
Another 2013 World Series retuning team, Waipahu, Hawaii, claimed its first big win of the Series, beating Columbia, Tenn., 14-1. Tennessee trailed Hawaii 10-0 by the bottom of the fourth and ended the game with seven errors. They are now 0-2 for the Series.
Hawaii players are excited to be back and “want to get some wins, but we are also just trying to have fun out there,” said center fielder Tanner Tokunaga. “We are far from home, and yet we still have a lot of local fans here to support us; it almost feels like home.”
World Series Day 3 games:
Game 7, 1 p.m.: Cromwell, Conn. vs. Jacksonville, Fla.
Game 8, 5 p.m.: Waipahu, Hawaii vs. Chico, Calif.
Game 9, 8 p.m.: Midland, Mich. vs. Brooklawn, N.J.
Watch the games live on ESPN3.com and follow coverage and read game highlights here.
Click here to read individual game highlights from World Series Day 1 by Carl Hennell, a former 82 Airborne Paratrooper, newspaper sports reporter and current American Legion National Baseball Subcommittee member.