ALWS champions relish World Series experience

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When American Legion Baseball alum Alex Gordon homered in the bottom of the ninth inning of World Series Game One, he did more than lift his Kansas City Royals into a tie with the New York Mets.

Gordon’s heroics inspired players and coaches from American Legion World Series champion Chapin-Newberry (S.C.) Post 193, who were among the more than 40,000 people filling Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

“Alex Gordon plays the game the right way,” said Peyton Spangler, who played second base for Post 193. “He plays the game hard. That truly speaks of who he is. I like to play the game the same way that he does. I think it’s amazing how he used to play Legion Baseball like we do.

“It puts your dreams in perspective. He did it. Why can’t I do it?”

As ALWS champions, Chapin-Newberry (S.C.) Post 193 traveled to Kansas City to see the first game of the World Series, visit the Negro League Museum, tour Arrowhead Stadium and enjoy some Kansas City barbecue.

In addition to Gordon, Legion Baseball alumni playing in the World Series this year include Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom and outfielder Michael Cuddyer. In the second game, deGrom cruised through the first four innings but was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the fifth and was relieved to start the sixth inning. The Royals went on to win 7-1; the loss was the first in four postseason decisions for deGrom.

“We all dream — and that’s my dream to play professional baseball,” said Danton Hyman, an outfielder, pitcher and emotional leader for Post 193. “Every one of the guys on our team would like to achieve that dream. To see major league players who have the same experience that we have is amazing. To watch those guys play and hopefully fill their shoes one day, that would be a dream come true.”

Whether or not any Chapin-Newberry players will be penciled in on a scorecard at a future World Series game, their time together will be forever etched in their minds.

“Playing Legion Baseball is one thing I will never regret,” said Hyman, who is playing baseball at Newberry College, along with his roommate, Spangler. “It taught me many things about becoming a great teammate, commitment and taught me how to respect the game. It taught me more than just the game of baseball. It taught me about life, and honoring the community and veterans.”

The visit to the Negro League Museum left an impression on the teammates. “We don’t think about skin color, social class or anything like that while we’re playing” Spangler said. “We’re all brothers when we are out there playing.”

American Legion Baseball Player of the Year Justin Hawkins credits his Legion experience with helping him develop on and off the field.

"Legion Baseball helped me grow as an athlete with the better talent on the team,” said Hawkins, who now plays for University of South Carolina-Sumter. “By playing with better talent, it made me a better baseball player. It was a big step for me, coming in as a shortstop to lead this team. As shortstop, I had a key responsibility.”

The World Series trip is the first time the team has been together in about a month, and it may be their last reunion.

“Over the summer, they were practically on top of each other for a month. Buses. Hotels. Ballparks. Dugouts,” recalled first-year head coach Daniel Gregory. “Then you have to stop cold turkey after the championship game. They go their separate ways. Getting them back together has been fun and interesting to watch them pick right up like it was July again.”

Gregory, who played four years with Union Post 22 in South Carolina, remembers playing on the Fourth of July with firecrackers going off in the background.

“This organization means a lot,” he said. “I was brought up knowing what it means to the Legionnaires and to the United States and to local communities. It was great for these young men to be able to see that. They were able to see a lot of things that The American Legion promotes. Good sportsmanship, standing at attention the entire time the national anthem is played.”

As a high school history teacher, Gregory understands the values that come with Legion Baseball.

“I am a big fan of American Legion Baseball,” he said. “I think it teaches all that: honor, respect. There are some stigmas that come along with summer ball. But I wanted to get involved with an organization that I knew and trusted. I knew American Legion Baseball, and when I was approached about coaching Chapin-Newberry I was extremely interested for that reason. It was a pretty easy decision.”

Now his players carry the same respect for veterans.

“It means everything to us,” Spangler said of playing on an American Legion team. “Some of these people gave their lives so that we can play the game of baseball. It truly puts things in perspective for us. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to play the game that we love. It shows how great our military is and how great our veterans are.”

Chapin-Newberry, South Carolina's first ALWS titlist since 1936, earned the Kansas City trip by winning the championship game 9-2 over Retif Oil (New Orleans).

“My first reaction was ‘Wow, I get to spend another couple of days with those guys,” Spangler recalled about when he learned of the Kansas City trip. “Winning the (Legion) World Series was enough for me. But, as I said before, Legion Baseball really takes care of you. It’s truly a dream come true for all of us to be able to see these great players and teams tonight.”