There is one American Legion Baseball Team representing the Bellows Falls/Springfield/Fall Mountain/Green Mountain area today and that is Pierce Lawton Post 37. Bellows Falls Post 37 has been competitive more years than not in Vermont state American Legion play, as far back as I can remember.
HOWEVER, for the most part, NONE of our local towns have been able to stand on their own and be a threat to win a state title on either side of the river. Springfield captured the Vermont State Legion Championship in back to back seasons in 1930 and 1931. Bellows Falls also won twice in 1964 and 2006. Chester and Walpole never were able to win it all. Legion Baseball is primarily a city game IF one is talking about championships.
The scope of Legion baseball has changed over the years. Baseball interest is not the same today as it was fifty, forty or even thirty years ago. Once upon a time, players had to be turned away in most area towns. Today, rosters are much smaller and often teams have to worry about forfeits at times. In the old days, most players played for the love of the game. Today, smaller towns still field teams, BUT those who aren’t able to attract players from other towns, just cannot compete. Towns like Windsor, who operated a team for so long, eventually just ran out of interested bodies, even when utilizing athletes from other towns. In the end, losing certainly added into the equation in Windsor and the same scenario played out in other places.
No one seems to have any idea of how the Springfield championship teams were formed. Bellows Falls did have players on both their title teams from out of town. In both cases, Springfield contributed. Most people still believe Carlton “Pudge” Fisk was the centerpiece of BF’s title team in 1964. BF would have loved to have had Fisk on that team, BUT he was playing in New Hampshire that summer. He joined BF a year later. Post 37 Coach Tim Ryan, who helped bring Fisk to BF, remembers having to jump through hoops with New Hampshire authorities in order to get Fisk released from his New Hampshire rights. By the way, BF played at Cooperstown in 1965 and Fisk introduced himself to the Landmark Town by blasting a home run in that game. How appropriate was that? AND, who knew?
When Ryan coached that team to the ‘64 title, he remembers, “We had some extraordinary athletes at that time, who were very good baseball players. In high school, we lost in the Division 1 Finals 1-0 in nine innings to Rice. That was during a period, when there were a large number of good legion teams. Hartford had just won four titles in a row and had kids from about seven schools” and they were BF’s victims in the finals. Brattleboro won the next year, when BF had Fisk and several teams, including BF were good enough to win. Ryan notes, “Our Legion title was quite unexpected, because we didn’t have a quantity of pitching, BUT we were able to play fantastic and pull it out.” A pitcher from Springfield, Terry Wheelock made a difference in the long run and they would not have won without him, BUT this title team was primarily an extension of BF High School. Tom Esslinger from Alstead was the only other non-Terrier on this teams roster. They participated in the Regionals in Manchester, NH and were eliminated in two games, BUT played Warrick, RI tough to the end, almost forcing extra innings before being eliminated.
There were several players from other schools on the 2006 BF title team. Bob Lockerby said. “It was an incredible feeling playing there. Everything was done well and that field was another step up.” That year the regional was held in Brockton, Mass. and the BF team more than earned their way there by playing don’t give up baseball to advance. Legion tournaments are double elimination affairs and BF lost to Rutland out of the gate in Vermont Tourney action and had to play an extra game to get back even. They advanced to the Finals with Bennington waiting without a loss.
Being down a game was not enough for Post 37 to handicap themselves. How about the fact, they allowed Bennington to jump in front 10-0. You did read that right 10-0. They came back and won that contest to force one final game, which they also won to advance.
BF is not expected to be the state champion this time around, BUT don’t be surprised IF they make the Southern Vermont Tournament, which begins August 23rd at Castleton. The top four teams of the seven in the south make the fun and BF is sitting in good position with 10 days left to play.
By the way, don’t tell this group, they aren’t expected to be state champs. They have beaten some of the top teams in the south and like the 2006 team are expected to compete hard, until they are eliminated. One of the biggest reasons this team stands a chance is because as history dictates, they have players on the roster from outside town. Remember Legion baseball is a city game.
IF you don’t believe that, just take a glance at the past seven years. Vermont has only two state champions in that time frame, the Colchester Cannons and Essex. Colchester wins every odd year (‘09, ‘11, ‘’13, ‘15) and Essex has captured honors in the past three even years (‘10, ‘12, ‘14). Do you need any further proof that the sport is more than ever a city game?
Tim Ryan, BF Legion Post 37 Coach in 1964 and very successful Bellows Falls Terrier basketball and baseball coach, recently underwent surgery at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. He is presently in a nursing home in Brattleboro recovering. He hopes to return home soon. Readers wishing to drop a note or card can reach him by mail at 286 Orchard Street, Brattleboro, Vt. 05301.