RF Legion baseball fixates on young players getting experience

Posted 7/5/22

Older players transition to club ball instead of remaining with the Legion team By Reagan Hoverman While some Legion baseball teams throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin are focused on stacking rosters …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

RF Legion baseball fixates on young players getting experience


Older players transition to club ball instead of remaining with the Legion team

By Reagan Hoverman

While some Legion baseball teams throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin are focused on stacking rosters with high school varsity players and student-athletes returning from college to chase a state title, River Falls has focused on getting young players experience and developing homegrown talent.

River Falls has played a packed schedule through the first two weeks of the season. River Falls has played 10 games in that span and currently sits 5-5 going into the Fourth of July break. In years past, River Falls had several everyday varsity players transition to Legion ball after the conclusion of the high school baseball season.

This year, River Falls only has two everyday high school starters on the Legion ball roster in juniors Eli Condon and Elijah Baker. With only two truly varsity-caliber players on the roster, River Falls head coach Ryan Bishop has spent the opening weeks of the Legion ball season developing young players making their way to the varsity ranks.

“We’re taking some lumps, we’re learning, we’re getting better and all of those things,” Bishop said of his young Legion roster. “This summer we had to take a step back from a coaching standpoint and shift back to relearning some things because we just don’t have the experience.”

Legion teams on the River Falls schedule have done no favors to Bishop’s young group. River Falls has faced Holmen, Fond Du Lac and will face Eau Claire in the coming weeks – all teams that have all-star caliber rosters and collegiate-level pitching on the mound.

“We had a really good game with Fond Du Lac with their college pitcher,” Bishop said. “Holmen is I think the top-ranked team in the state and we had a really good game with them. The reality is we’re young and we’re learning.”

The aforementioned games against Fond Du Lac and Holmen – two of the best teams in the state – came down to the wire. The game against Fond Du Lac was on Friday, June 17, at home. In that game, River Falls trailed by two runs entering the seventh inning, managed to put one on the board but ultimately came up short.

The following night was another home game, this time against Holmen. That content was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel as both aces were dealing. Holmen strung together a couple of timely hits to secure a 2-0 win over River Falls.

The 2022 River Falls High School baseball team had a good roster with a large senior class that comprised most of the everyday roster. Historically, those players tran sitioned to Legion ball after the high school season was over.

This is the first year that some of those older players decided to play baseball for a traveling club team instead of remaining with the hometown Legion team. Losing those players to club teams has objectively hurt the talent on the Legion team roster.

One player that was going to remain with the Legion team is Ragan Pinnow, a 2022 graduate and standout player for the high school squad. Bishop recalled having a conversation with Pinnow that helped him decide where to play this summer.

“Since we were going to be so young (on the Legion team) and a couple of our older guys were going to move on and play club ball this summer, I told Ragan Pinnow he should play with the Fish full-time because it will benefit him more,” Bishop said. “Of course, that hurts (our Legion team), but that’s not what this is about for him. It’s a great opportunity for him.” The 2022 Legion ball season is the first year that River Falls has been significantly impacted by student-athletes deciding to play club baseball. The decision of not only some of the River Falls athletes, but athletes around the state and country, have shifted in favor of club ball instead of America’s oldest summer tradition.

“American Legion baseball is the oldest amateur sports organization in United States history,” Bishop said. “Millions of kids have played since it started. Every state has a state Legion tournament and there is a national tournament and that’s because the spring baseball season is so short. Legion baseball has always been in the mix.” Bishop and his coaching staff are in a unique situation, as they coach both the River Falls High School baseball team and the River Falls Legion team. He’s been privy to seeing kids choose club ball over Legion baseball.

Instead of dwelling on it, Bishop and his staff have embraced younger players get ting opportunities earlier against top Legion teams in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, an experience that will unquestionably make them better players as they return to the high school season next spring.

“Our focus has to be on the kids that are with us right now and making them better,” Bishop said. “We’ve got more than 10 players that never even suited up for a varsity game this year. We’ve also got a couple of varsity bench players. It’s just a young group when it comes to varsity-caliber baseball.” Despite the youth of both the roster and the 2022 season schedule, there have been noticeable improvements already, according to Bishop. The Legion season is essentially split into two halves. The first is the last two weeks of June until the Fourth of July weekend and the second half is the remaining July schedule into the playoffs in August.

“We view those first couple of weeks as getting their feet wet with Legion baseball,” Bishop said. “It just happens that this year there is even more learning, questions and adjustment to the speed of the game. We’ve shown some growth at times and have also had our moments of JV-caliber baseball.” Some of those JV-caliber mistakes happened in the most recent game on Thursday, June 30, when River Falls played on the road against Red Wing. Mistakes on the basepath and in the field cost River Falls a game that should have been a victory.

“We lost to Red Wing in extra innings and we should have won that game, but we made mistakes,” Bishop said. “We made mistakes on the basepath and at the plate that we need to execute more consistently.” River Falls currently holds a .500 record going into the Fourth of July break and will look to continue improving in the coming weeks as the team gets ramped up for a play- ou run. The next game is on Tuesday, July 5, at home against Eau Claire. That contest will begin at 7:30 p.m.