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What does Legion baseball mean to America and you?

June 12, 2015

Ron Peterson Chief Warrant Officer 5 US Army (Ret) reflected at a local Edina coffee shop on how his childhood, baseball and impressive service record tied in with the American Legion’s involvement in the game and has now intersected with his son Troy.  The game has been a family passion dating back to Ron’s childhood and continues on today. 

“If you go in any American Legion in the state, there is always baseball on, it’s the summer time past time.” said Peterson when asked about the connection between American Legion and baseball.  “I am glad they support it the way they do and I love Legion baseball.” 

Ron grew up in North Minneapolis a sports fan and competitor with a passion for baseball.  He passed the love of the game on to his son Troy who just completed his final season of baseball at the American Legion level playing for Edina Post 471.  The elder Peterson’s life is an example of how service to our country and baseball fuse together to create a perfect marriage with our youth through baseball that is promoted, by the American Legion.  

“On your bicycle handle bar, you always had your baseball glove and you were ready for a game,” Peterson recalled.  “I used to play catch with my dad every night, it was just a part of the summer.”  It was in the neighborhood parks and in the Minneapolis Park Board League where Ron Peterson honed his baseball skills and love of the game.  “Growing up in North Minneapolis, it was all just Minneapolis Park Board League,” Peterson said of his youth baseball experience.  “I played mostly at Harrison Park and at Bryn Mawr Park.  I played up through 9th grade and played one year in high school.”  

Peterson, a 1974 Minneapolis graduate grew up in a time when the draft lottery was coming to a close from the Vietnam War.  He observed kids a year or two older than him who would watch the draft lottery, wondering if their number was going to be called.  The lottery ended in 1973 during his junior year, yet Peterson saw a number of guys from his high school being drafted up until then and was aware that most everyone’s father had been in the service.  Since he was not keen on school and admitted he didn’t work to hard it it, joining the Army became a legitimate option for him.  

“I joined the US Army and from ’74-’76 I spent two years with the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany as a Tanker,” Peterson said.  “I got out and was in the Army reserve for two years and then got interested in flying and aviation.”  Peterson went on to join the Army National Guard unit stationed at Holman Field in downtown St. Paul and was part of the 47th Aviation Battalion where he began as an aircraft mechanic.  He stayed in that unit as an aircraft mechanic and began working there full-time in 1984.  Peterson went on to become an aircraft inspector and continued to fly on the civilian side of things where he earned is FAA ratings of Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot and Airline Transport Pilot in airplanes.

In 1988, his journey took him to Ft. Rucker, Alabama where he began flying helicopters from 1988-1999.  Peterson flew a variety of helicopters and the UH-1 Huey was cited it as his favorite to fly among the several that he listed.  Being full-time National Guard, Peterson was a part of civil disaster relief, and was deployed to Central America where as he stated, “Did some work with three-letter agencies in the drug war down there.”

“It was fun and it was exciting,” Peterson observed.  “Since I had a lot of airplane time, on my own, the Guard had a one airplane unit with only six guys.  They were pretty much all airline pilots from Northwest (Airlines) and they brought me into that group, I don’t know why but they did.  They needed some young blood in there.  I learned a lot from those guys and that is where I stayed from 1999- until I retired in 2014.”  

Ron started out as a Co-Pilot and worked his way up to Pilot in Command followed by Instructor Pilot, and finished his run as the Detachment Commander for his last six years.  Two combat deployments were served to Southwest Asia in 2004 for Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan in 2009 for Enduring Freedom.  

In regard to his two combat deployments, Peterson said they were a great experience.  “I had a great time with both of them; I flew a lot and got to do a lot of good.”  When asked about his combat deployments coming later in his career Peterson laughed and said, “A lot of aviators are old guys, they are experienced and you get smarter every day flying.” 

His work included VIP transport and as Peterson noted, “The Generals like to see a lot of grey hair in the cockpit.”  He also noted that he flew spy plane missions in Afghanistan, designed to listen and look in on actions along the Afghanistan/Pakistaniborder always included tracking a lot of what the bad guys were doing.

Ron Peterson completed his career with 6,700 accident-free flight hours, was awarded the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and  Master Aviator Wings, and with all of those accomplishments, Peterson said being away from his family was the toughest thing he had to do during his two deployments.   

While his career in the military evolved and developed, so did his son’s baseball career.  Troy was also the starting quarterback at Edina High School and graduated in 2014. Through the year’s Troy’s intensity to compete and passion for the game was always evident by his dirty uniform as he laid it out for his team every day.  He has always been a leader and a player that keeps the dugout or huddle calm yet ready to compete.  

For Ron, to see his son play at the Legion level one last season presented an opportunity to watch some great baseball.  After Troy’s freshman year at St. Olaf, returning to the Edina Legion Post 471 team as an age eligible player was an easy decision.  

“It was automatic,” Ron noted of the decision to play one more year of baseball.  “After the season ended last year he knew all the guys who were age eligible Johnny (Leach), Will (Vanderbilt), and Danny (Sullivan).  He struggled in college his first semester while playing football and he found out how hard it is how much he had to study.  Troy said, 'Maybe I will just play Legion baseball because I know I will have fun doing that,' Down at Olaf, you know what happened this year.  He would have had to miss a lot of class and he was afraid of that.” 

Indirectly, things worked out for Troy in his freshman season as there was not a baseball season at St. Olaf college.  Ron was referring to a hazing incident that stopped the St. Olaf season short. Meaning, playing summer ball on the Legion team represented an opportunity for Troy to connect with his friends that he had grown up playing baseball with.  

The Peterson’s lived in a neighborhood that promoted playing the game and would head down to Highlands Park to play baseball on Sundays.  “Even when Troy was growing up with all of those kids when they were first, second, third, fourth grade before they got rolling in Edina baseball, the parents would go every Sunday night to the field over at Highlands Park.   We would pitch to them and eventually they wanted to play kids against the adults.  Then they got too big and fast,” Ron said with a chuckle.  

Troy has been a longtime Twins fan and was known to watch the older kids play when he was in the middle school grades.  Ron pointed out that watching and Major League Baseball game is something one could find Troy doing as he was growing up. “You learn so much from watching, more than any other way but I don’t think Troy really tries to emulate anyone but he has always had a deep interest in watching baseball, being a fan, a spectator,” Ron said of Troy.  “It has always been a part of our summer.  Even his mother doesn’t know too much about the sport, but she likes to go down to the games and we will roll down to the Twins game if we don’t have anything going on and of course, this year it is kind of fun they are in contention.” 

As Troy moved on to Legion baseball, it is the quality of play that strikes Ron who said, “It is quality baseball, you can’t get better amateur baseball, I think.  It’s so competitive and it is a fixture in any Legion you go in and people are talking baseball.  They support so many things, veteran’s causes too but they have always been a great supporter of baseball.”

The biggest asset of the game provided by American Legion Baseball is that it gives players much needed structure and a place to be a part of a team at a high level, all with the kids they grew up playing the game with throughout their years.  “There are opportunities for these kids to play baseball and if they weren’t playing, who knows what they would be doing.  It gives them structure in life and they get practice, they know they have to get to batting practice,” Ron stated.   

Peterson’s work in the Army provided a lot of opportunities for himself and while a career in the Military may not be in the cards for Troy, Ron pointed out that Payton VonEschen, Kevin Placid, Matt Holm, all enlisted to the Marines and Jack Hunzelman is in Army ROTC at St. John’s University.  All four kids graduated from Edina in 2014 with Troy. Von Eschen and Holm both played baseball growing up and there are others from their class that enlisted as well.  

Having lived a life with a career that went to heights maybe Ron Peterson would not have expected, the qualities of discipline, roles, respect, and work ethic all have played out on the baseball field.  “It teaches them discipline it teaches them roles, respect for the umpires, coaches, the other team, your fellow teammates,” Peterson said.

There is not more a parent could ask for in their son’s development not only as a player but a person.  The American Legion baseball experience has something to offer for players that go beyond playing between the lines and Ron, Natalie and Troy Peterson have been an exemplary example of that.

 

 

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