BARRE — First-year coach Cody Carlson is looking forward to representing the newly revived Barre Post 10 Legion baseball team this summer.
The Granite City did not have an American Legion squad when Carlson was looking to participate over a decade ago, so he sought out some alternatives. He played a year with the now-defunct Waterbury Post 59 squad, did a stint with the Post 3 team from Montpelier and then transferred to play his final year of Legion ball near his college in Webster, Massachusetts.
But Carlson remembers being a bat boy for the Barre team when his older brother played. And his stepfather also represented Post 10 on the baseball diamond, so you could call it a family tradition.
“Playing Legion is a code of conduct, and it’s an honor to be able to play for them, just because there is so much respect for the legion,” Carlson said.
Carlson is a 2008 Spaulding graduate who lives and breathes the game. He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school baseball in Barre. After winning a conference championship with Becker College in 2009, he wrapped up his playing days at Lyndon State while playing fall ball. At Becker, he served as the team’s closing pitcher and utility infielder, and he has also spent time catching.
“Baseball is what I do,” he said.
Two months ago, the Post 10 team was officially admitted to the league following a unanimous decision by the committee. Post 10 Commander Joe Zickmund, manager Shawn Stabell and Vermont American Legion baseball commissioner Scott Stevens were all instrumental in bringing the team back to Barre.
The new squad will join Vermont’s Northern Division, which includes, Addison County Post 19, the Colchester Cannons, Franklin County Post 1, Montpelier Post 3, the OEC Kings, Post 91, SD Ireland and South Burlington. The Post 10 squad will play each of those teams three times. The Southern Division features Bellows Falls Post 37, Bennington Post 15, Brattleboro Post 5, Lakes Region, Randolph Post 9, Rutland Post 31 and White River Junction Post 84. The regular season will kick off the second week of June and will run for six weeks.
“It’s a serious commitment, from the parents to the kids to the coaches to everybody that’s involved,” Carlson said. “It’s six to eight weeks if you make the playoffs. And it could be the end of August if you make regionals. You have to be dedicated to the game, and dedicated to being available all the time pretty much.”
The preliminary schedule for the Barre bunch includes 10 games in a six-day span, with two doubleheaders. Practices will be organized around the game schedule, and the team will use the Spaulding High School and Barre Town facilities. Carlson expects that most of the players will be Barre residents, with a few Williamstown athletes likely to join the mix.
“Typically, Twinfield and Northfield go to Post 3 in Montpelier,” Carlson said. “Post 3 has been there the whole time and we’re not trying to step on toes coming in. And there are enough kids in Barre where we could put an exciting team on the field without having to try and steal kids from other recruiting areas. If a kid is closer to us than any other team, then he can try out for our team. If he doesn’t make our team, he can be waivered and play for another team.”
Making a Legion team is often the best way to gain high-level baseball experience during the summer in Vermont. Many of the state’s top prospects have cut their teeth in the league, and even some NCAA standouts return to play before their sophomore season.
“Legion is the top-of-the-line competition in high school baseball in Vermont,” Carlson said. “You can play until you’re 19. Kids are coming back from their freshman year in collage to play, and then the top kids from all the schools around.”
Legion players range in age from 13 to 19, but the league is mostly filled with high school talents. Carlson does not expect to have any 13-year-olds playing this summer and is aware of only one 14-year-old who will likely make the roster.
“At 13, with the exception of certain players, they are not ready to face a 19-year-old throwing 88 to 90 mph,” Carlson said.
Carlson plans to adopt different coaching strategies, adjusting to different rules of the game. Unlike coaching youth baseball, he will not be compelled to give everyone equal playing time. The team’s goal is to win, so Carlson plans to tweak his lineup accordingly. And he wants to establish his players’ roles on the team early in the season.
“It’s going to be run like a major league team,” he said. “We are going to have some guys that normally play in the field, but they’re just going to be pitchers for us. And there are going to be some guys that normally pitch and play in the field, and they’re just going to be fielders.”
Carlson is also committed to an exciting brand of baseball that should keep the home crowd entertained.
“We will be very, very good at hitting,” he said. “One of my primary focuses is to make sure we put the bat on the ball. We are definitely going to run a lot and steal a lot of bases.”
When Carlson isn’t coaching, he does home repair work through his business. The significant time commitment to baseball will alter his busy work schedule, but he’s willing to make sacrifices.
“I’ll just get up a little bit earlier, go into work earlier,” he said. “I’ll make sure I get my stuff done I need to get done for the day, work a little bit faster.”
Carlson will receive a fuel stipend for his dedication, which will help because he drives a big truck. And he anticipates the players will be rewarded in different ways, picking up valuable life lessons at every opportunity.
“Discipline is definitely one of them, and commitment is another,” he said. “Seeing where they stand as far as how they are as a player against the best in the state is another one. You can have kids that just played around here and think they are really good. And then they go play some of these other kids and it changes their mindset and makes them work a little bit harder.”
Carlson is focused on staying within striking distance against the top opponents. Essex is the defending champ, while Franklin, Brattleboro and Colchester won during the previous years.
“I don’t want to go out there and just get run over by all the other teams because we’re new in the league,” Carlson said. “I want to go out and show that there is talent here, because I know there is, and we can win. So I want to go out and be competitive every day and make sure we play full games, not play just a few good innings and just float along, I want to play strong the entire game and make sure the kids always keep their heads up and have positive attitudes. And we are going to be on the top notch of the sportsmanship category.”
Rutland boasts 15 Legion titles, while Barre is close behind with 12. Legion started in 1926 and has expanded to include 3,500 teams in the U.S. and Canada. Notable alums are Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Don Mattingly, Joe Torre and Yogi Berra.
Carlson doesn’t expect his roster to be filled with future MLB prospects, but he has high standards for his team and refuses to underestimate any of his players. At the end of each day, he is grateful to still be closely involved with the sport he loves. Any time his patience is tested or he gets frustrated on the field, he reminds himself of his central mission.
“A coach will impact more lives in a year than the average person does in their lifetime,” he said.
By signing up for back-to-back Legion seasons, Carlson is ensuring his impact will be strong. The hope is that his efforts will result in higher-quality baseball players and — more importantly — better members of the community.
“I’m trying to make kids better than what they would be without playing, and more successful in society,” he said.
(Editor’s note: Shawn Stabell is the chief revenue officer for The Times Argus / Rutland Herald)