More times than not, nothing is as easy as it appears.
In his first season calling the shots in the dugout for the Sandusky American Legion Post 83 baseball team, Bellevue graduate Bobby Palsa has found that out in the past two months.
“What I’ve learned is coaching these kids in the summer is difficult,” Palsa said after Sandusky improved to 33-10 and advanced to the state tournament with a district title Sunday in Tiffin. “You don’t have the time that you have as a high school coach where maybe you play two or three times a week, and the other days you practice and work on things.
“We don’t have that luxury with up to six games in a week. Kids need that day off, and we don’t have time to practice. It’s difficult for me personally, because there are a lot of things I see we could do better or work on, but we just don’t have the time.”
As a result, Palsa and the players are in a situation where they learn on the fly.
“It’s difficult to do at this level, but it’s been a tremendous summer in my first coaching experience,” Palsa said. “I’ve learned a lot about managing the game, what to do in certain situations and what we do next.
“But my job is to make sure these kids get their time in so that playing for the team helps them progress as baseball players.”
Another difficulty in the head job at Post 83 is one that wasn’t an issue several years ago.
“There are so many summer ball teams, it feels like they are popping up on every corner,” Palsa said. “You just need someone willing to coach and someone willing to sponsor, and you have a team. It is a challenge to put together a competitive Legion team.”
With a shrinking number of Legion teams across the state, the 12-team state tournament could be downsized in future years. Last season, a non-district champion was included in the field because no team from the 12th district in Franklin County participated in Legion baseball.
With nearly 35 less teams registered in Legion baseball compared to roughly 15 years ago, one consideration is to reduce the state tournament to an eight-team field, which would also cut the five-day tournament to three days.
But as Ohio Legion baseball is facing tougher times and more competition with kids playing elsewhere, Post 83 has remained a model of consistency with six state berths in a seven-year stretch. Included in that run has been two state championships (2008, 2009) and a third place (2011) and fifth place (2012) finish.
Palsa points the success back to Ray Neill, the longtime Perkins baseball coach who also coached Post 93 from 1999-2010.
“We are fortunate enough to have a guy like him who puts our roster together and can attract talent from our region to field a competitive team like we have,” Palsa said of Neill. “He’s put this all together, and built up a dominant Legion program that year in and year out represents the district well.
“The fact we go to state so many times and compete at state shows that we have very good players in the Sandusky area. Without that success and opportunity to win district titles and go to state, it would be very difficult for us to field a team still. If it wasn’t for Ray, I’m sure we wouldn’t be where we are now. I honestly can’t give him enough credit.”
Continuing the tradition of Post 83 is very important to Palsa.
“The program is fortunate that since Ray has stepped down, some good guys have been involved in the program,” he said. “You have to have guys coaching that the kids can relate to. You have to understand that it’s summer baseball. The kids need to have fun.
“If they aren’t having fun or are stressing about being here, you’re not going to get good baseball out of them because they want to be somewhere else. You have to find people that understand that and can work with the kids with that in mind.”
With all that being said, Palsa is looking forward to at least two more weeks with his team.
“It’s been an incredible summer. This group of kids I’ve been blessed to coach have been an absolute joy to be around,” he said. “I will never forget these kids or this team. It’s my first team, and I’m so thankful that we were able to accomplish our goal and win a district championship. We get a chance to go to state and have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”