American Legion Baseball is a national program designed to develop the skills of high school-level baseball players. Teams are comprised of high school-aged players from the same area, including five from Altoona that play on teams in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls.
Zach Vaughan plays for a Chippewa Falls-based 16-and-under American Legion team and Joel Johnson plays for an Eau Claire-based 16-and-under team, while the other three players – Jeremy Poirier, Jordan Dewitz, and Brodie Johnson – play for the 17-and-under team in Eau Claire. Joel Johnson’s father, Jay Johnson, is the head coach of the Altoona High School baseball team.
American Legion teams are exclusive and it is often difficult to make the team.
“To have five kids playing in this exclusive league is a big deal,” said Mike Vaughan, Zach’s father.
American Legion has been developing the skills of high school baseball players for more than 80 years and it has developed more baseball Hall of Famers than any other amateur baseball program. Milwaukee Brewer greats Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Rollie Fingers, as well as Milwaukee Brave great Eddie Mathews, all played American Legion baseball growing up and are in the Hall of Fame now.
“American Legion is top-tier high school baseball; it develops players,” Mike Vaughan said.
There are plans in the works to have an Altoona-based American Legion team in the not too distant future.
“16-and-under is the age group that we will start out with,” team organizer Steve Poirier said. “We won’t have enough (players) for the older group.”
Steve Poirier, whose son Jeremy plays on an Eau Claire-based American Legion team, hopes to have the team going soon.
“I can’t do anything until March, which is when I can do all the paperwork,” Steve Poirier said. “We’ll have a fundraiser on September 13. We’ll be looking for donations.”
Steve Poirier currently coaches a Babe Ruth-league team. The league, which is essentially a more relaxed version of American Legion, is designed for 16- to 19-year olds.
“There are four teams in this Babe Ruth league and we played each other four times,” Steve Poirier said. “We ended up 6-6.”
Even though Babe Ruth baseball is slightly more relaxed, it still develops players.
“I think it helped because they got to play some more (baseball), but not as much as (American) Legion – they play 30 to 40 games,” Steve Poirier said. “There were a few kids who obviously improved. They were relaxed more because everyone plays the same amount.”
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