TWIN FALLS — As different as their final records wound up being, the Twin Falls Cowboys and Blackhawks Legion B teams both reaped the benefits of summer baseball.
The Cowboys, coached by CSI assistant Nick Aiello, finished their first season of Legion B ball with a sterling 27-12-1 record. The Blackhawks, coached by Brad Mills, went 8-29 in their debut season.
Despite the relative contrast in success, Aiello and Mills wouldn’t change a thing for their respective squads. They were just happy to field the teams in the first place.
The Cowboys and Blackhawks have had AA and A American Legion teams for years. There were only so many spots available, though, which led to younger players being left off the teams for older players with high school game experience.
That left a large number of 13 to 15-year-olds with no baseball to play from the end of school until the summer. Then the idea of starting Legion B teams came along.
“(Twin Falls coach Tim) Stadelmeir reached out to me in March and said we think we have enough kids to make this thing work,” Aiello said. “And now that we have enough kids to do three teams, it’s absolutely essential to keep everybody together and to keep every kid that we can keep involved with the program in the program.”
The Cowboys and Blackhawks’ B teams are made of players either heading into eight grade or their freshmen years of high school. The Babe Ruth baseball season ended before the summer began, leaving a huge gap of inactivity in the summer months.
But with a team for younger players available, future Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge High School players kept developing.
“If you look back at the beginning of our summer until now, the development of the 15 kids we have on our team has been unbelievable. So, to get the opportunity to play … 40 games, it’s been instrumental in the Twin Falls High School program, getting kids to stay in the program and getting kids an opportunity to keep playing in the summer,” Aiello said. “You start with a group of seventh and eighth graders, and they don’t know how to stretch, they don’t know how to throw, how to run the bases. And I think the day-to-day operation’s have been where we’ve seen the most growth.”
While the Twin Falls program has had too many players for teams in previous years, the opposite was true at Canyon Ridge. There weren’t enough players with high school experience to fill out the A team a year ago, so the 13 to 15-year-olds played and got thrashed.
The playing field is much more level for the players with a B team.
“It’s been really good. We’ve played A the last two years and basically (been) playing against varsity teams. This year we’re playing guys at our own level, and we’ve been a little more successful in games and not getting 10-runned,” Mills said with a laugh. “The last couple years we’ve struggled to get 12 per team, and this year we had close to 40 try out. It’s been pretty good to have a little bit of competition.”
Playing games over the summer is crucial in terms of developing skills and good habits for the incoming high school players. More games means more practice. More practice means better skill development. And better skill development means players are more ready when the high school season begins, which is especially crucial for Canyon Ridge.
The Riverhawks depended heavily on freshmen playing varsity last season. If it’s the same case in 2017, those youngsters will have more experience and will transition easier.
“I’m real happy. Looking forward to getting to high school and getting these guys on the JV team. The last two years I’ve had three or four guys play in the summer and get called up to the varsity as freshmen,” Mills said. “So, it’s nice to have a lot of bodies. We’re starting to get in the high school program where we have upperclassmen. We didn’t have a senior this year. One of these days we’ll get six or seven seniors on the team.”
As is the case with the AA and A teams, the B teams have district tournaments. The problem is that, while originally scheduled to be at Minico, the location changed to South Fremont High School with just three weeks notice. Expensing a three-hour trip each way with hotels was impossible on short notice. So the Cowboys and Hawks were left at home.
Instead of sulking, they made the best of it.
The teams held a two game double-header Friday night and called it The Twin Cup. The Cowboys won the opener, 4-2, while the Blackhawks took the second game, 6-5.
The rivalry games put an exclamation point on a stellar first season for the Twin Falls Legion B teams. It also provided closure on an experiment that worked as well as it could have due in large part to a supportive community.
“(The Twin Cup was) phenomenal. It gives an ending to a season that if we didn’t do this, neither team would have an ending. It would have just been over for us on Saturday. This way, we have an opportunity to do a lot of things. We have a chance to practice, more chances to develop, and it’s been good,” Aiello said. “The best thing about this town since I’ve been here is, there’s a lot of love for the programs on each side of town. I think that’s awesome.”
American Legion AA Baseball
Burley 14, Buhl 13
Burley 8, Buhl 6
The Twin Falls Cowboys clinched the top seed and a first-round bye in this week’s district tournament.