When Tyler Cates American Legion Post 281 in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., opened its doors in late 2010 with 47 members, Post Commander Pat Unger hoped to see his longtime goal achieved — sponsoring a Legion Baseball team. Unger witnessed his goal come to fruition this past summer.
"Post 281 voted unanimously to not only get involved but to support our own American Legion Baseball (junior and senior) teams, the Tyler Cates Mt. Juliet Riverdogs," Unger said. "The post membership got behind this program and have wholeheartedly supported the young players who have been given an opportunity to play one of America's favorite past times."
The post members recruited players for the 2012 Legion Baseball season by advertising tryout times and locations in the local newspaper and by asking high school administrators to spread the word to students. "It was a collaboration of everybody going out into the community to recruit and drum up support," Unger said.
Meanwhile, post member and former Legion Baseball player Dave Smith volunteered to coach the senior team. He recruited colleague and 12-year baseball coach Craig Hoppe to oversee the junior team.
"It's very exciting to be a part of The American Legion and to represent them on the field," Smith said. "We are a smaller post, but we have a lot of members who are constantly looking for ways to give back to the community."
Post 281 members provided support by attending games, serving refreshments and ensuring players' transportation needs were met to and from the games. They also provided the players with formal Legion Baseball uniforms, as well as camouflage uniforms to show support for all servicemembers. One servicemember in particular was represented on their jerseys.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Steven Charles Tyler Cates graduated from Mount Juliet High School in May 2001 and enlisted in the Marine Corps a few months later on Sept. 19, 2001. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment and was killed in Iraq by enemy fire on September 20, 2004. Tyler was 22 years old.
The Mt. Juliet Riverdogs teams' honored Tyler during opening day ceremony by having his stepfather, Phillip Shaw, throw out the first pitch. Sadly, Tyler's mother and Phillip's wife, Patricia, passed away last year.
"We are very proud that Tyler represented our country, so it's an honor to be able to keep his memory alive by carrying out his name through our post and our two baseball teams," Smith said.
For its first season, Mt. Juliet Riverdogs Post 281 junior team won a tournament and the senior team won two. The post recognized the players for an award-winning season by inviting them to the post dressed in full uniform to showcase their trophies. They also hosted a picnic at a local park for the players and their parents. "We wanted to have one last wrap-up to say ‘thank you' and to let the players get a little reward from the post," Unger said. Auxiliary Unit 281 members were also in attendance because "they are a very important part of the success of our post," he added.
After lunch, Coach Smith presented Shaw with a camouflage Tyler Cates Legion Baseball jersey with the number 1 on it. And the Auxiliary honored Patricia as a Gold Star Mother by presenting Shaw with a special medal for her gravesite.
"The enthusiasm and camaraderie among the Legion members and players has been one of the most rewarding experiences for everyone," Unger said. "The experience of going to a baseball game and knowing that The American Legion is a driving force behind the teams is both gratifying and satisfying. Plus, it's just plain fun to watch these young men play a high quality game of baseball — not to mention the trophies they have presented to our post membership.
"American Legion Baseball is truly a rewarding and fun endeavor for any American Legion post to be involved with."