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Businessman promotes American Legion baseball

The Chester Progressive of Chester, California

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In 1926, the American Legion introduced a national Legion baseball program. The hope was that through the development of sportsmanship and team play on the diamond, a measure of good character and a better sense of citizenship might engage the nation's youth.

As a nationwide organization, the American Legion boasts baseball teams in almost every county in the U.S. The Chester American Legion, Post No. 664, is the local association.

Chester resident Larry Rainwater is taking a leading role in the effort to promote American Legion baseball in the Lake Almanor Basin region and beyond.

"What I'm doing is reaching out to the community to try to help establish an American Legion baseball program in our county," he explained.

Rainwater's approach is multipronged.

A major priority is to draw athletes from the communities of Chester, Greenville, Westwood and potentially Quincy to form teams to play competitive baseball, "which is what American Legion baseball is all about."

At the same time, "I'd like to reach out and extend my hand as a businessperson and promoter of the community, and one way to accomplish that is to host baseball tournaments, which will bring a lot of people into our area." He envisions an opportunity for both the players — "our kids" — and the business community as well.

Rainwater seeks to arrange a partnership between the schools and the Almanor Recreation and Park District, together with American Legion baseball and the community at large.

He said a major part of the plan is the improvement of facilities to attract competing teams to the area.

"We want to become known as a destination that boasts upgraded sports facilities to host tournaments for what I expect will be a number of very high-level, gifted athletes."

Rainwater knows a thing or two about establishing a baseball program and fielding teams for tournaments. His experience includes running the American Legion baseball program in Chico for a number of years before moving to Chester.

"We started off as a single season with a single team," he recalled. Team members ranged from ages 16 through 18, and played a limited schedule of about 20 games during the summer season, "all on a limited $15,000 budget," he added.

"When I later left the program in the hands of others a few years later, they had three teams at three age levels beginning at age 13, with improved scheduling, and our senior team played 60 games in 60 days in three states, with an expanded annual budget of $41,000 raised through community fundraising efforts."

In addition to donations from generous individual contributors, organizations and direct business sponsorships, monies to operate the games also come from tournament fees paid by visiting teams.

"Businesses that sponsor the kids also help get their names out as well, so it's a win-win," Rainwater said.

The biggest winners, however, are the kids.

"Tournaments are where Major League Baseball college recruiters attend because that's where they can see the most athletes and view the most talent in one spot," Rainwater pointed out.

He claimed that close to 65 percent or more of current

Major League Baseball players were sponsored under the auspices of the American Legion.

"You'll see a lot of people holding speed guns, taking notes, wearing Major League Baseball caps and searching for the talent of tomorrow's baseball leaguer. And it's at the tournaments where they find it."

The program is not only a great way for players to expose their talent to professionals in the industry, he said, but also an obvious way to bolster the regional economy.

The next step in the effort begins with an initial exploratory discussion at the Almanor Recreation and Park District meeting June 25 at 6 p.m.

"I've written a letter to the district board and to the schools promoting the idea of drafting local teams, and they have forwarded it to their athletic directors and coaching staff in Greenville, Westwood and Chester."

Rainwater said he's already received responses from several people who have expressed excitement at attending the meeting to explore the concept in more detail.

He said he was especially interested in hearing from businesses because he wanted to focus on "letting business owners know what opportunities we are bringing to the table for them."

In particular, Rainwater said he'd like to meet with representatives from the lodging and restaurant industries, "because we need their participation considering that we expect we'll have multiple sites for tournaments, and attendees as well as the athletes and their families will be coming from throughout the region and even other states, and will need places to stay along with food service."

He noted that beyond just the families and fans of the players recruiters who come to town would also need to utilize the accommodations.

Rainwater wanted to emphasize that everyone is invited to attend the meeting at the upcoming ARPD meeting, "because we're certainly interested in the input and participation of individual community members in this effort as well."

One caveat is that, "Whatever we do in terms of baseball, we have to be sponsored by an American Legion post." Most of the time sponsorship is in name only, he said, because few posts can financially support the program.

"It's really going to be up to the people in the community to fundraise and financially support the teams," he said.

Even though Rainwater's plans are still preliminary, he said he's already feeling the momentum to the initiative gaining strength.

"I just started getting the word out and the response from the community is already at fever pitch."

For those interested in attending the next Almanor Recreation and Park District meeting June 25 to learn more about the establishment of a Legion baseball program, the address is 102 Meadowbrook Loop in Chester, 258-2562.

Call Rainwater at 259-6023, or ARPD President Sean Delacour at 864-1147 for additional information on the proposed program.

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Original Publication Date: June 3, 2015

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