American Legion Baseball in Sumter, SC
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo courtesy of the City of Sumter
The joyful cry of “Play ball” has resonated throughout Sumter every summer since 1929. That was the year that the American Legion Baseball program fielded its first team in Sumter, sponsored by Post 15. More than eight decades later, P-15 continues to put together a team every year, making it the second-oldest continuous American Legion Baseball program in the nation.
“It’s a big thing in the city of Sumter,” says Jimmy Hodge, the P-15 Athletic Officer and chairman of the baseball committee that oversees the program. “It’s something the community really gets involved in.”
American Legion Baseball is comprised of amateur players, mainly high school students, ages 13 to 19. There are approximately 5,000 teams throughout the nation. Regular-season games are held from around Memorial Day weekend through early July. That is followed by more than a month of playoff games and regional and national tournaments.
Hodge says the program is so popular in Sumter that P-15 fields two 18-player teams. “We have a junior team for the younger kids, because we have so many kids come out for the program,” Hodge says. “It’s like having a minor-league team for the varsity. It’s a good proving ground, and a way to get more kids involved in American Legion Baseball every summer.”
Sumter usually plays host to at least one American Legion tournament every year. The city has been a regular site for the annual Southeast Regional Tournament, which features state champions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Puerto Rico.
Tournament organizers have estimated that more than 1,000 people arrive in Sumter for the Southeast Regional. Approximately 350 motel room nights are required, with a total financial impact to the community of more than $500,000 in retail sales.
“Our local merchants gain from it, and it also benefits us in terms of recognition,” Hodge says. “It’s good for the image of the city.”
Games in Sumter are played at historic Riley Park, a quaint 2,000-seat facility that was built in 1934 and was once the home park of the minor-league Sumter Braves. A recent renovation of the stadium included the installation of oversized fans that Hodge says keeps spectators comfortable throughout the warm summer evenings.
“It’s like a ballpark with air conditioners,” Hodge says. “A lot of nights it’s cool enough under those fans for people to put on a jacket. The city does a tremendous job keeping up the park for us. They keep making it better and better, not only for the players but for the fans.”
One of the regular fans in attendance is Bobby Richardson, a Sumter native who played for the New York Yankees from 1955 through 1966.
“Bobby is a big supporter of American Legion Baseball,” Hodge says. “He helps in a lot of ways. He’s always there to offer good advice. And if there’s anybody who’s qualified to give a player or the coaching staff some good advice, it’s Bobby. He has nothing but positive things to say about this program.”
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