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Commissioners, volunteers work together to make state tournament happen

August 1, 2018
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American Legion commissioners work in the press box between innings of one of 13 AAA state tournament games at Legion Field.

A little over a month ago American Legion commissioners learned the Class AAA baseball state tournament would come to Legion Field.

Usually Legion Posts have a year to get ready for the major event, which pitches the best teams in the state against one another.

But not this year.

The tournament had originally been scheduled to take place in Klamath Falls but was moved to Roseburg due to a scheduling conflict.

With little time for preparation and fundraising, the commissioners have worked tirelessly to make it a great time for all — many of them putting in more than 60 hours of volunteer work throughout the five-day tourney.

“It’s been a long five days, but at the same time it’s been a rewarding five days,” Commissioner Jake Kuitert said. “You can sit back and be proud of what was accomplished.”

While the commissioners try to take in games between their shifts, many of them don’t have time to watch an entire game.

“I’m not sitting there for seven innings watching the game,” said Kuitert, who has been a commissioner for more than 20 years. Instead, while being interviewed Tuesday, he was also making sure visiting teams had enough balls for practice.

“It’s a group effort. It’s not just me, it’s all by committee,” Kuitert said. “Most of the people in our group have been through this before so we know what needs to be done.”

And the American Legion doesn’t just work tirelessly to make everything perfect for the AAA Dr. Stewart’s, they put in the same amount of time for the Pepsi Bottlecaps and Dr. Randol’s Crowns.

“It takes a community to run a great program,” Commissioner Jil Webber said. Webber runs the souvenir both with fellow commissioner Shelley McKenzie throughout the summer.

Current baseball players generally take care of the striping and raking before and after games.

One of the little things that has been added in recent years is the opportunity for little kids to earn 25 cents for every foul ball they bring back.

Balls cost the American Legion about $5 a piece and many of the foul balls are still in good enough shape to be put back into play, or be used for practice.

Current commissioner Robert Tilton said he remembers chasing foul balls at Legion Field when he was a child not for the money, but for the joy (and honor) of handing it to one of the baseball players.

Tilton grew up at Legion Field, as did many others who are now part of the American Legion baseball commission.

“I like being around here and watching the kids get better and better,” George Decker, scorekeeper and commissioner, said.

Many of the baseball players will start playing for the Roseburg Renegades in middle school, make their way through the American Legion A teams and finally finish their careers with the Docs. Some of those former players are now coaching, or assistant coaching, the teams that visit Legion Field.

Many of the commissioners also have fond memories of growing up in Roseburg’s tight-knit baseball community.

“Tom Donegan and I battled during our Babe Ruth years and he contacted me to see if I wanted to help out and be a commissioner,” commissioner Jeff Admire said.

Chaz Gurele, who frequently works the ticket booth at Legion Field, said that he enjoys giving back to his community.

The ticket booth is staffed by volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, which receives a fee for staffing the booth. But the ticket takers are unpaid volunteers.

Umpqua Lions volunteers run the concession stand, the Lion’s Den. The rest of the work at the ballpark is done by American Legion commissioners, volunteers and baseball players.

Currently there are approximately 25 commissioners, all of whom have helped out in some capacity in the last week to make the state tournament run smoothly.

“(Commissioners) all have a love of the game,” Webber said. “All of them have played baseball, or have had sons who played baseball.”

And to keep the cost down the commissioners do most of the maintenance themselves with the help of donations from the community.

Roseburg High School and Umpqua Valley Christian use the facilities for baseball during the school year and in 2020 Umpqua Community College is expected to start using the field for its home games as well.

Once the high school season ends, the Roseburg Renegades, Pepsi Bottlecaps, Dr. Randol’s Crowns and Dr. Stewart’s share the field, which means there is a game at Legion Field nearly every day.

The American Legion is always looking to add more volunteers, especially those with free time.

“A lot of the work tends to fall to us grey beards that are retired,” Kuitert said.

Decker said, “I run the scoreboard, run the clock and I do it to stay busy. I’m retired, but I’ll do this as long as I can. I enjoy it.”

Commissioners are asked to volunteer their time, but several of the current commissioners are employed and are raising families — something the American Legion is willing to schedule around.

And although the past week has seen more baseball at Legion Field than any other week this year, the work continues year round.

Fences need to get painted, seats replaced, netting hung, light bulbs replaced, grass mowed — the list goes on and on.

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