American Legion District 5 Prep Division starting this season
American Legion baseball is adding a prep division for younger players, including six teams in the local district, according to Department of New York American Legion Baseball Chairman Mike Macchione.
The Prep Division is for players ages 13 through 15. It is a national effort on behalf of the American Legion to provide a new opportunity for the players coming out of Little League and into higher level baseball.
Before this year, District 5 had junior and senior divisions. The senior division is primarily for players ages 17 to 19. Now the juniors will be intended for those 16 and 17.
Players can play with older age group levels but the new division will help with one issue. “The problem that we’ve had is that we have 13-year-olds playing against 17-year-olds,” said Macchione. The new division will be a place for younger players to mature and continue to learn the game.
It is, said Greg Gaeta, who is overseeing the Prep Division, “bridging the gap from Little League to American Legion, and helping that kid transition from the small field to the big field,” from 60 feet between bases to 90 feet and with the greater distance from the mound to home plate.
“We’re giving them a pathway to get to play in their age bracket, more in their age bracket, certainly not 13 though 17,” said Macchione. “Thirteen through 15, they should be able to handle that. It also brings more attention to American Legion. They get acclimated to playing American Legion rules. So then they have that background. And most significant is that it’s at a significantly more affordable price” compared to travel ball.
There will be six teams in the local district’s prep division: Adrean, Clonan, Whitestown, Utica, Ilion and New Hartford.
The plan is for a 15-game schedule and a post season ending with a district championship. Next year, the national level could, depending on turnout, have more postseason games, even a state title, in a framework that matches the senior level, Macchione said. There will be two league games a week on weekdays from June 13 to Aug. 1. If teams want to play in tournaments or other games, they can, he noted. The district will start its postseason on Aug. 3 and end with a championship two days later at Murnane Field in Utica.
Players will be able to qualify for the age group if they turn 15 after Aug. 1 of that year. Those who turn 15 before that would be too old and would have to play at the junior or senior level.
There are some goals for the first season, Macchione said. “Getting kids involved. It’s across the board. It’s not just here in the Mohawk Valley.” The district wants parity and equitable competition levels. “The goal is to build our base of the American Legion baseball pyramid” at the foundational level. “We need to be exposing kids to baseball at that 13-year-old age bracket…to give them a path they can see.” Players can go from Little League to prep league, to junior to senior. That progression along with school ball can help players get to the college level, he said. “If we can fill our teams and get a minimum of 12 kids” per team, “it’s the beginning of building the base” so the senior league teams will have plenty of players.
“My hope is that as we play this summer word gets out a bit. But we’re more focused on communities,” said Gaeta. He said the league is trying to connect with other local communities that have good Little League support that could also add Prep Division teams as soon as next season.
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