As the Minnesota State High School Baseball season gets underway (or postponed due to snow), the news on the street everyone seems to be talking about is the 2019 Excelsior Senior Legion Baseball team not only running away with the 19' State title, but also winning the American Legion World Series hosted in Shelby, NC.
Here's the thing, they just might.
With seven, yes, seven returning college freshman (Jack Hanson, Will LaLonde, Matthew Mortensen, Ben Stolar, Michael Sturek, Will Sturek, Jarod Wandersee and Aaron Wukmir) returning, partnered with talented "underclassmen", on paper—they might be the 27' Yankees.
Their 2018 Junior Legion team members on this team are already champions. They took the 2018 Junior Legion State title this past August, grinding through the losers-side of the bracket. Paired with state tournament birth as well for the 2018 Senior Legion team, there is no doubt they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Head coach Rob Hager, tied with his assistants Adam Goethke, Alex LaPorte and Andrew Shotwell, are winners as well. Adam "Gator" Goethke took Wayzata Legion to a state title recently and "Shotty" was a top player (.300+ batting avg) and leader when he played for Excelsior, and had a solid college career for coach "Lunch" McKenzie for Concordia in St. Paul.
Hager has been a great long-time lieutenant to the Hall of Fame Manager Jim Peck and has had numerous State Tournament appearances not only with Excelsior, but also Bloomington Blue. Hager is back at the helm after 1983 National Champion Coach Bruce Barron (Edina Coach 1982-86) was the head coach for the Senior Legion team in Excelsior in 2016 and 2017. Barron also led Excelsior's Junior Legion teams to state titles in 2012, 2014 and 2015, while taking 2nd place in 2013.
Back to the 27' Yankees and the question we get emailed about dozens of times per week—should college freshman be able to come back and play at the Legion level?
American Legion Baseball nationally changed the birth date from August 15th to January 1st 10+ years ago, bringing the opportunity for said age group to come back and compete after their Freshman year in college.
Is it better for the game? Debatable. Does this rule take the place of a program kid who is an underclassmen who probably would have made the team? Probably. Do you have 19 year old who "grew up" in college his previous year in the dugout with kids who maybe can't drive? Yes. Does it help non-metro or outstate teams be competeive? Yes. Does is help you win? 100%.
Minnesota, who has the most American Legion Baseball teams in the United States (350+) will be watching the 2019 Excelsior Legion team closely this summer. Their coaches, managers and community have high expectations, as they should. Their history for competing and winning goes without saying.
As Hall of Fame former coach and now GM of Excelsior Jim Peck says, "Remember, if winning weren't important, there would be no scoreboards".