ALWS champions honored at World Series

While they may not have been together since celebrating their American Legion World Series (ALWS) championship in August, Troy (Ala.) Post 70 members picked up right there they left off.

“They have a brotherhood, a camaraderie,” said first-year coach Ross Hixon, whose team finished the season with a 32-6 record. “They are a really fun group to be around.”

The reigning ALWS champions were honored Saturday night during Game 2 of the Major League World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Astros won 5-2 to even the series.

After the first inning, the public address announcer welcomed the team as players and coaches were shown on the Jumbotron.

On the field, there was a strong contingent of American Legion Baseball alumni. Among them: Houston’s Alex Bregman, who homered in the game; manager Dusty Baker and Game 1 starter Justin Verlander. Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Alec Bohm and Brad Hand are Phillies who also played Legion Baseball.

Wearing a Bryce Harper jersey, Troy Cavanaugh beamed when he learned of the common bond he shares with his favorite player. “That’s crazy. I didn’t know that. It’s pretty cool that I’ve shared the field with those people.”

Cavanaugh, who played on Post 70 for four years, has an understanding of the sacrifices veterans make. After all, his dad served in the Army.

“It means everything, we see all the stuff they put in to help us. It doesn’t go unnoticed,” he said. “To everyone in The American Legion, thank you. It’s awesome. To anyone thinking of playing American Legion Baseball, I would say do it.”

Post 70 won three consecutive come-from-behind games to take the American Legion World Series championship at Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C. In the deciding game, Troy defeated Idaho Falls (Idaho) Post 56, 6-5, which was seeking to become the first team to win three straight ALWS titles.

The George W.  Player of the Year, Brooks Bryan, collected three hits in the deciding game.

“Post 70 never gave up,” he said. “We just thought we were always going to win. Some teams when they got down, they didn’t believe. But we always believed we were going to win. The mentality of our team was that we were always going to win.”

Bryan knows credit for the team’s success goes beyond the players and coaches. He appreciates American Legion members who supported the program and the Post 70 team.

“It means a lot, knowing what the veterans went through,” he said. “They are the only reason we are here today. They put their lives on the line for us to have some freedom.”

Post 70 joins Tuscaloosa’s 1967 team as the only ALWS champions in Alabama American Legion Baseball history. For Bryan, the entire ALWS left an impression.

“American Legion Baseball has done a lot for me. Going into Shelby, you really don’t know the experience. But when we went there, it was amazing.”

Hixon has a long history with American Legion Baseball. He played for Dothan (Ala.) Post 12 in 2009-10.

“Back when I played, you want to look around for the best thing to play — team, atmosphere, whatever is going to push you to be a better person and player. For me, Dothan Post 12 was that team growing up. I was a Legion guy from the start as a player,” he explained. “Now as a coach, we want to set them up to be successful and create that team atmosphere. When you do that and they buy into it, you can create something really special. American Legion Baseball has shown that you can get a college scholarship offer. What The American Legion stands for is what is what we base our team on: working together as a team.”

Hixon also points to the impact Legionnaires have on the players.

“The biggest thing about American Legion Baseball is the history and getting educated on it,” he said. “Our guys are going to respect the flag, enjoy everything that comes with being able to play in a free country, stuff that they may not think is a big deal until they play American Legion Baseball.”

Walker Stallworth relishes the off-field lessons.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the Legion,” said the second-year Post 70 player, whose grandfather was a Navy veteran. “They give back to us and we sometimes give back to them. Seeing the smiles on their faces is just an honor. It’s truly special.”

Stallworth will apply the lessons learned to wherever he goes in the future.

“The American Legion has helped me become a better person,” he said. “I learned a lot from everybody. I learned how to manage myself and be responsible. They teach us how to respect.”

Early Sunday, the team left Houston and went their separate ways once again. But their bond and gratitude for their supporters will firmly remain.

“Thank you, American Legion,” Stallworth said. “None of us have ever been to the World Series or Houston. This is a great experience, all the way from the state tournament to regionals to the (American Legion) World Series. It’s been awesome. I’ll never forget it.”