Edina’s American Legion Baseball

Edina baseball could make history with consecutive state title at Braemar Fields.

The distance between home plate and the pitcher’s mound is 60 feet and 6 inches, but the gap between when pitcher Rob Wassenaar’s right arm rocketed strikes and when manager Bruce Barron called the hit-and-run to lead the Edina American Legion baseball team to the 1983 state title is a much greater number, swelling  to 30 years. The two men met at the diamond this spring and reminisced as if it were yesterday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s three years, five years, 30 years, you have a bond,” Barron says. “You know you have a shared experience.”  That 1983 Edina team won the second of consecutive state titles, a feat the current Edina team will attempt to repeat as it hosts the 2013 American Legion Baseball State Tournament on August 1-5 at Braemar Fields. Sixteen Minnesota teams will vie for a chance to advance to regionals, and then the American Legion Baseball World Series in North Carolina.Coach Nick Kennedy led last year’s team to the state title in Chaska, and says a repeat at home would be special. “I think we would say that we have home-field advantage,” says Kennedy, who played Legion ball for Edina in 1989-90. “It would be a great memory for these kids for many years to win it on their home field. We are going to give it our best shot, but a lot of things have to fall in place. There is a lot of luck that needs to come in to win a state championship.” The teams in the early ’80s certainly had both. The 1982 team won state and finished fifth at nationals, while the ’83 team won state and nationals. “A championship team aspires to that championship before the season even starts,” Barron says. “It was absolutely certain that we were going back, and we were going to take care of unfinished business. You can’t coach that into somebody. They have to have it. “When they had the ball in their hand, they were simply not going to let any team take them down,” Barron continues. “They came on and played above and beyond anything that they ever played before.” Edina has never been the primary host of the Legion state tournament, and organizer Brad Burley plans to make it unlike any tournament before it. On opening day, instead of the traditional banquet, uniformed players will be introduced on the field, followed by a patriotic performance. A choir and color guard will handle the national anthem, a bagpipe player will walk onto the outfield playing “America the Beautiful,” and a few World War II fighter planes from Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie will conduct a fly-over, with colored smoke clouding in the sky.“I think it will be something that the kids have never seen before,” Burley says. Players, families and fans can also check out the latest equipment from Wilson, Rawlings and local suppliers at a baseball expo. A clinic for children ages 8 to 12 will be conducted August 3. Twins’ 1987 World Series hero Gene Larkin, and Edina native and former minor league baseball player Tom Nevers will host the instructional.“The hope is the kids show up and say let’s go watch these games,” Burley says. “They are going to see some great baseball, but they are also going to see a lot of American Legion veterans sitting around watching baseball, and hopefully they ask questions about what is going on here. Then the veterans will be able to tell a story.” Army veteran Darwin Berg, who served in the Vietnam War in 1968-69, says the pairing of the American Legion and baseball make for the quintessential American story.“We like to think that it’s the best program available anywhere,” says Berg, a member of the Minnesota American Legion baseball committee. “It’s an opportunity for the American Legion and the kids.”Veterans with a baseball background are often in the stands, Berg says.      “They are the ones that it seems to draw in,” he says. “They have nothing but praise for the people that put on the tournaments. They like to thank the committee for making them a part of it and including them.” Danny Baer, the star center-fielder on the Edina team, says the Legion state tournament is about more than his team matching what happened 30 years ago. “American Legion baseball is a very big deal for a lot of these people,” Baer says. “It helps shape the young men who play it, and in these guys’ case, those who serve our country and are willing to die for our country. It’s another aspect where you are not just playing for your mom or your dad or yourself, you are playing for this entire other group of people.”For tournament information on teams, tickets and schedules, visit the Edina Legion baseball website.