When leagues collide

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Area Babe Ruth and Legion teams have met on the field a few times this season.

The biggest adjustment this week for the Scott County American Legion team isn't its opposition -- a string of games against Senior Babe Ruth teams -- but playing with wood bats.

Scott County is the only Legion team from District 14 playing in the Fighting Squirrels Wood Bat Classic baseball tournament being hosted by the Charleston Senior Babe Ruth team.

Scott County already has swept two doubleheaders from Charleston this season -- one with aluminum and one with wood -- and then defeated the Cape Girardeau Senior Babe Ruth 4-3 on Friday in the opening round of the tournament.

The first-year senior Legion team bucks a trend of existing teams such as Cape Girardeau and Jackson that do not play Southeast Missouri Babe Ruth teams.

"I've had a couple guys ask me about that," Scott County coach Tom Dirnberger said. "But when we turned in our roster and schedule at the beginning of the year, nothing was ever said, maybe because we're a new team and we're trying to build some confidence."

Dirnberger, in fact, is less concerned about remaining District 14 regular-season games than just about getting some wins, no matter the opponent.

"We're building a program," he said, "and the kids are just as happy about two wins against Charleston as they are about two wins against Cape Legion. Next year will be their time.

"We have seven games this week, including this tournament and two district games. Forget about the district games because it doesn't really matter if we're seeded fourth or sixth [for the district tournament]. I just want to get some confidence in them."

Scott County has that chance this weekend. It beat a Cape Senior Babe Ruth team that had split a doubleheader with another first-year District 14 senior Legion program, Twin Rivers, on Wednesday night. If it makes the today's final, the opponent for Post 369 (Medicap) would be a Jackson Senior Babe Ruth team that has 25 wins and a 12-2 record that leads its league.

Mineral Area was scheduled to be in the tournament but backed out.

"Mineral Area always has one of the best Babe Ruth teams, and they could've played with any senior Legion team in the area," Dirnberger said.

"The kids are all the same age," he said of the two associations.

First-year Cape Babe Ruth coach Alan Wengert echoed Dirnberger's belief that the organizational affiliation doesn't matter much once teams are on the field.

"I think my kids view playing senior Legion teams a little different, that you see a little better competition," Wengert said, "but I'm not sure that's correct. It really depends what town it's from."

As for a battle of Cape Girardeau? "I doubt very seriously that will happen [this year]," said Wengert, who listed it as no better than a 50-50 chance in the future.

His biggest concern at this point is a Thursday doubleheader with Jackson that could carry the Senior Babe Ruth league's North Division title and a berth in the state tournament. Cape is 9-3 in league play and will need a sweep.

All three teams are spending this week worrying less about the opposition's affilitiation than the wood bats.

"It makes a big difference," Dirnberger said. "We've had our outfielders playing 15, 20 steps off the infield. You've got to hit it exactly like you want to to get the ball to fly."

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