Shorter careers face Legion players

As a member of the Junior American Legion Minot Metros in 2012, Chandler Jacob worked hard to impress the Minot Vistas coaching staff in hopes of positioning himself for a three-year run with the senior team.

Jacob, 17, made the Vistas roster this year, but this season will be one of just two for the pitcher. In an effort to have baseball in line with the eligibility of other American Legion organizations, the national executive council passed a resolution late last year to end baseball eligibility following the summer after a player graduates high school.

The rule will go into effect in 2015 – the summer Jacob will return from his first year in college like four of his current teammates did this year. Under the current rules, Jacob would have been eligible because his 19th birthday falls after Jan. 1, 2015.

“It’s a little disappointing, but that’s the rule and there’s nothing you can do about that,” Jacob said. “I was excited to play three seasons. If I would’ve been able to come back you’d go into your second year knowing there is one more – not that you don’t want to play hard every year – but you’re really gonna soak it up that last one.”

Jake Raile, the secretary of the North Dakota American Legion Athletic Committee, said the resolution was proposed by a Connecticut representative.

“We’re gonna keep the high-end age,” Raile said. “You cannot turn 20. There will be an age, but the biggest factor is whether you’ve graduated high school.”

Having players with college experience has helped Legion teams for years. Vistas coach Todd Larson credits that experience with helping his team win five state titles in his 15 years at the helm.

“I can see the purpose for this,” Larson said. “When you get to that national level, when you get to the World Series level, most of these teams (from more populated states) are made up of college kids. It’s pretty hard to compete when you bring out 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds and you’re competing against 19-year-olds. I think it’s going to level the playing surface a little bit and I think it’s a good thing.”

Raile maintained that the decision had less to do with evening the competition than it did with having participants of the same age and education as those in American Legion Shooting Sports, Boys and Girls State programs and scholarship contests.

Jamestown coach Shane Shoeneberg appreciates the help that college players provided in his first five years in charge, but doesn’t think the rule will put his team at any more of a disadvantage with the bigger Class A programs.

“We’ve never really benefited tremendously from (college players),” Shoeneberg said. “The most I’ve ever gotten back was three and that was my second year and none of those players played college baseball.”

Jamestown is benefiting from the return of two Valley City State players – Brady Anderson and Riley Schafer – this season, but Schoeneberg sees the smaller programs as better off come 2015.

“When you look at the bigger towns they have more (college) kids to choose from,” he said. “You can definitely tell who the kids are back from college, even the mental maturity. I mean, the physical maturity you can tell that.”

The Vistas have four 19-year-olds this season, but only one -Austin Berntson of Minot State University – earned college baseball experience in the spring. Casey Ryan was a redshirt at Dickinson State. Marcus Quist and Brock Krueger attended MSU, but did not play baseball.

Quist plans to join the Beavers next year and is glad the new policy didn’t affect him.

“Being able to get in the weight room and work on the fundamentals every day really helps,” Quist said. “Doing the routine things every day to keep things sharp and on point.”

Quist said teams benefit greatly in the batter’s box with college players.

“You see college pitchers and then you come back and see pitchers that aren’t as good,” he said.

The Vistas will lose six players due to their ages following the state tournament next week. Larson doesn’t have any players on the roster that will start college this fall and qualify for the 2014 season.

“So we’ll be ahead of the ballgame, I guess, by a year,” Larson said.

The Vistas (24-18, 10-6) play a doubleheader at Fargo at 2 p.m. today.

Tim Chapman covers the Vistas and Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.