All roads lead to Legion ball for Melvin Roads Post players
RENSSELAER -- Summer baseball players in the Capital Region are not without options when looking for a team. Some choose to play Connie Mack ball and others compete in Albany’s fabled Twilight League.
For a growing number of diamond diehards in Rensselaer County, American Legion baseball at Melvin Roads Post No. 1231, which is named after an East Greenbush native who lost his life serving his country in World War I, is becoming an attractive alternative.
"This is a special one. I played for it and I’ve coached," said assistant coach Curtis Nobles, who started playing for Melvin Roads in 1993. "To me, this is my family. Melvin Roads kept me off the streets when I was younger and it put me in a perspective of life and the way I should carry myself."
Marc Peluso, the first-year head coach at Melvin Roads, had to turn players away before the season began – a sign that word is getting out about the benefits of Legion baseball.
"We had 30-plus kids wanting to play on an 18-man roster," Peluso said during a batting practice session Tuesday at the Peluso household in suburban Rensselaer. "This was one of the first years we had to cut kids down. I’m only allowed to have 18 kids on the team, but it’s a good problem to have. We’re starting to get a lot of good-caliber kids that want to come in because they’re recognizing the level of competition and the scouts that come to our games."
Winners of the New York State American Legion title in 2007 and 2009, Melvin Roads advanced to regional round play in West Virginia last summer, finishing as one of the best 64 among the 5,500-plus Legion teams from around the nation.
With just a handful of teams to compete against in the immediate Capital Region – Hudson, Kingston, Saugerties, Saratoga Springs and South Glens Falls also have Legion posts with teams – Melvin Roads players often spend their summers on ballfields around the state playing in multi-day tournaments. They play regularly in tournaments in Newburgh, Utica and Binghamton, all of which lead up to the New York State Tournament, which will be played July 27-31 in Newburgh.
"It’s tough. It’s not like the AABC (American Amateur Baseball Congress) where you win a tournament and you’re automatically in the World Series," said shortstop A.J. Ragone, who played at Christian Brothers Academy and just finished his first year at Hudson Valley Community College. "You have to play all the way through districts, states and regionals. It’s hard, because all these other teams are geared up to play, but so are we."
Many of the players, including outfielder Nick Papas, say that Legion ball has helped them perfect their skills and improved their performance on college teams during the spring season. In fact, Papas hopes his Hudson Valley Community College team can reach the Junior College World Series in Texas next year with a ton of returning talent that is all out to get better this summer.
"I wanted to face better competition, so I came over here," said second baseman Zeb Gaston, who formerly played with the Lansingburgh Royals. "I wanted to expand my game. It was something I wanted to do."
The appeal of college and professional scouts is also a big selling point of Legion ball to talented youngsters in the area.
"It’s building," Peluso said. "Legion baseball was big in the past before there was ENYTB and all these travel leagues that have came about. It used to be Legion ball...that’s what you would play. It’s starting to come back to that thanks to the success our program has built."
Speaking of geared up, equipment and expenses are other reasons why players are flocking to Legion ball. Aside from a $250 registration fee, Melvin Roads Post pays for most of the players’ gear, including caps, t-shirts, shorts and a large portion of the team’s travel expenses. The players spend some time assisting at Bingo nights at the hall and hope to hold pancake breakfast fundraisers there in the future.
"No. 1, we have to represent Melvin Roads," Nobles said. "American Legion is very prestigious as far as fronting the bill. They pay for everything. The least they ask us to do is show respect to the veterans and the game."
American Legion’s 19-and-under age limit also allows the team to collect players such as Zeb Gaston, who just finished his sophomore year at Troy High. He hopes to continue with Melvin Roads through his high school career and hopefully after a freshman season at college somewhere.
"A lot of kids want to play, but this is for people who really want to play,"Ragone said. "It’s not come when you choose. It’s baseball all-around, you know? Every guy on this team loves to play. They come every day ready to play, geared up to play. That’s what we like to do - play baseball all summer long."
"Everyone else is doing their own thing, drinking and partying," said outfielder Nick Papas, who won a New York State Class C baseball title at Maple Hill High School before playing soccer and baseball at HVCC this past year. "This is what I do and what we all do instead of going out partying all the time. This is how we enjoy our summer."
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