Even though it’s been three decades since Jim Foster played American Legion Baseball, the Warwick native – who now lives in New York – still has a special and soft spot in his heart for the storied teenage program.
So much so, in fact, Foster – who as a player sustained many super successes and is now recognized as one of the nation’s top collegiate coaches – will play host this weekend to what promises to become a tradition unlike any other.
Beginning tomorrow and continuing through Sunday, Foster – who is the head baseball coach at the U.S. Military Academy – will host the first-ever Army West Point American Legion Baseball Classic inside Johnson Stadium at famed Doubleday Field.
“And to think it all came about during a telephone conversation with my son,” Jim Foster, the former Hendricken All-Stater and Providence College Big East standout who played 10 seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization – was saying the other morning.
In short, Jim Jr. simply asked dear old dad: “Do you think we could get some teams to come here and play a tournament?”
There was instant interest and the idea mushroomed into a 10-team, two-division tournament that filled up within 48 hours of the announcement and includes Post 1 of Wheeling, West Virginia.
“It was really incredible,” Foster’s father, who doubles as Army’s No. 1 fan and president of R.I. American Legion Baseball, noted. “We even had a waiting list and really felt bad we couldn’t accommodate more teams.”
The inaugural West Point Classic will also have a special Rhode Island flavor, from the umpires to Most Valuable Player Trophy that has been named in honor – and the memory – of Capt. Tommie Bates, brother of R.I. American Legion Department Chairman and one-time Coventry High School football standout Corey Bates, who was killed in action during a tour in Saudi Arabia.
“Everyone is excited about this tournament,” Jim Morrison, who, like Foster Jr., played at Bishop Hendricken and is a member of the Rhode Island Umpires Association, offered. “The kids will learn some history…Abner Doubleday is a 1942 West Point grad and is said to have invented the game of baseball while on leave in 1938 from the U.S. Military Academy. The place certainly has nice ties to the American Legion, in general.”
There’s another unique twist to the three-day event, during which each team is guaranteed four games.
“This is a wood bat only tournament,” Dave Schiappa, who coaches Auburn Post 20 of Cranston/Johnston that’s sponsored by Gershkoff Auto Body and who Foster Sr. credited with “doing lots and lots of work putting this tourney together,” said
Schiappa’s squad, in fact, is one of two Rhode Island teams that will play in the historic West Point Classic. The other is Upper Deck, a.k.a. Cumberland Post 14, that’s coached by Jim Mello and is the defending state and New England champion that played in the 2016 American Legion World Series.
“The baseball should be excellent,” said Schiappa. “And, what better a site than Army for American Legion play? Coach Foster believes strongly in Legion Baseball and being a former coach at BC, URI and now Army, he understands its importance and level of play.”
Foster, though, won’t be the only college scout sitting in the historic West Point ballpark, as a host of coaches from across the country also know the high-level that ALB produces. With the fact that the tourney is wooden bat, it’s expected to draw record numbers this weekend.
Thus, games will be played tomorrow (July 7) through Sunday and the 10-team field has been divided into a Stars Division and Stripes Division.
In addition to Gershkoff-Auburn Post 20, other Stars Division clubs are: Fleming, New Jersey, Post 159; White Stone, New York, Post 113, Stamford, Connecticut, Post 2; and Leesburg, Virginia, Post 14. The Stripes Division includes: White River Junction, Vermont, Post 84; South Windsor, Connecticut, Post 133; Wheeling, West Virginia, Post 1; Rockland Pirates, New York, Post 130; and Upper Deck, Cumberland Post 14.
Meanwhile, Kyle Rhodes, who doubles as president of the R.I. Umpire Association, announced the list of eight Ocean State residents who have given up their weekend to work all games of the inaugural West Point Classic.
They are: Joe Ward, Jay Ward, Rick Cunningham, Dave Masse, Manny Ferreira, Jason Keith, Jim Morrison and Rhodes.
Yet another fact that enhances the tourney format – and fact that ALB is still recognized for its talented players and as a community baseball program – is that players on all 10 teams will receive a special t-shirt courtesy of the Rhode Island American Baseball League.
As for Gershkoff-Auburn Post 20, which is one of New England’s most storied programs, Schiappa’s squad will take on Whitestone, New York, in its opener at 2:30 tomorrow, before playing Flemington, New Jersey, at 5:30 p.m. Upper Deck has back-to-back dates tomorrow with Rockland, New York, and White River Junction, Connecticut.