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Legion ball provides unique opportunity for New Canaan and Darien high school and collegiate players

Andy Hutchison, Darien News-Review
Updated 1:56 pm, Thursday, July 14, 2011
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It's not too often that high school and collegiate athletes get out on the same field and play ball together -- at least not on a competitive level. American Legion Baseball players, however, do have the opportunity.

The New Canaan/Darien team includes a handful of college students, some of whom lace up the cleats and compete at their universities, and much of the 17U squad includes high school upperclassmen.

The combination serves as a win-win scenario for all involved.

"It's an advantage both ways. The college guys are coming back and getting a lot of playing time. It helps our high school guys to see what the older guys do," said John Miceli, coach of the New Canaan/Darien team, which carried a 12-12 record into Thursday's action, and remained in the hunt for a state playoff berth.

"It's a lot of fun -- especially hanging out with all of the guys," said Darien's Mike Miller, a pitcher who goes to High Point University in North Carolina. "It's definitely nice. I'm out of touch with these guys a lot of the year. To come back and see them five times a week and play the game we all love, together, is a nice opportunity," Miller said.

Miller adds that High Point is attempting to get a club team organized and is hoping that the plan comes to fruition so he can keep lacing up the cleats for competitive ball. Miller is in his last season of legion ball this summer.

"I love the game. I want to keep playing," he said.

New Canaan's Jeff Spindell, a pitcher and catcher who plays at Division III Skidmore College, is one of the team members to continue his career. He said playing Legion ball is helpful for keeping sharp on the diamonds during the offseason.

Spindell said he enjoys spending time both with his college and legion teammates. Alex Freeman, also of New Canaan, goes to Gettysburg. Brandon Tripodi of Darien, a student at Roger Williams in Rhode Island, has played with the New Canaan/Darien team this summer. Darien's Andrew Hurn will go to Amherst in Massachusetts in the fall.

The program gives college freshmen, who may not be continuing their careers in school, a chance to keep playing organized ball for one more year.

Tom Carruthers of Darien will be a high school senior this year, and says being on the diamonds, practicing and competing with college-level players is beneficial.

"It's a fun experience. Everyone on the team is really cool," Carruthers said. "They definitely bring more experience. They set an example for the younger kids -- just the way they approach the game."

It's not all about wins and losses during the legion season. The players come together to try to win, but they say the pressure is not as high as it is during the regular school campaign.

"Summer's not just about baseball, it's about bonding with other kids," Carruthers said.

The New Canaan/Darien team crushed Wilton 18-2 on Monday after dropping a hard-fought 9-8 game to Norwalk on Sunday.

Following a 17-7 win over Ridgefield on Wednesday, two more games are on the schedule: home tilts with Bridgeport and Stamford this coming Saturday and Sunday. A game with Greenwich, scheduled for last Friday, was rained out and a makeup date has not yet been announced.

According to Miceli, New Canaan/Darien needs to win all three games in order to qualify for the state tournament.