There’s something about baseball.
Each year more than a dozen high school boys, in the height of their teenage social lives, dedicate eight months, including the whole summer, to a sport that they have to raise much of the money to play.
To Adam Olson, one the Kalispell Lakers’ captains, it makes sense.
“It’s the love of the game,” he said.
Olson doesn’t sound cliché or contrived. He believes there is no other sensible reason for such sacrifice at his age. That love, he said, is what brings together this year’s 13 players, all 17 and 18 years old, for another run at the state AA American Legion Baseball tournament.
A 17-7 start in this young season, including a 2-1 conference record as of Monday, has the Lakers on the right track.
Baseball, the great American pastime, has certain magical qualities, Olson and teammate Tyler Reichhoff say, that separate it from other sports and keep players coming back.
It’s about playing outside in the summer in front of fans chewing sunflower seeds and cheering through an entire three-hour game in 90-degree heat. It’s about road trips and spending eight months together when high school teams spend less than half that time together. And, as with all sports, it’s about winning.
“This year’s looking good,” Olson said. “We know we can get it done.”
Olson spoke a day after his huge game against the Lakers’ main rival, the Glacier Twins of Whitefish. In the 21-9 drubbing of the Twins, Olson led the offensive attack by batting 4-for-4 with seven RBIs.
Some Lakers have played together since tee-ball days — nearly two-thirds of their lives. Since they were five or six years old, most of them haven’t had a summer without baseball. And every Laker is a Flathead High Brave, except Bigfork’s John White.
“It shows on the field,” Reichhoff said. “We have really good team chemistry.”
Because American Legion baseball is unrelated to school, teams must come up with their own money through fundraisers, ticket sales, concessions and donations. Recently, players met their goal of selling $800 worth of season passes.
“It’s a unique sport in that your financial support is based on the generosity of supporters,” said Head Coach Ryan Malmin.
American Legion baseball is also different in that it’s played away from the high school spotlight. It’s based on team pride — not school pride — and crowds are rarely as large as at basketball or football games.
Players begin training indoors in January and play into August. Last year the Lakers played 65 games in the AA season, finishing 34-31, including 13-11 in conference play.
The Lakers entered this season having lost nearly all of their players at positions through the middle of the field. Among the five players who left after last season were their catcher, centerfielder and shortstop.
“That was a concern,” Malmin said. “But we have some guys filling shoes pretty well.”
This year’s AA crop is tough, Malmin said, and conference rival Missoula Mavericks could be the best team in the state.
“There’s no easy games,” he added. “Every win counts.”
This is Malmin’s second year coaching the Lakers. A Whitefish native, he teaches seventh-grade at Whitefish Middle School. He is also an assistant high school football coach for the Whitefish Bulldogs.
His Whitefish ties add an interesting element to the (Whitefish) Glacier-Kalispell rivalry, especially considering Glacier’s coach Jarod Grubb is from Kalispell.
“There’s definitely some jokes about it,” he said.
Olson finished high school last week but still qualifies in age for American Legion baseball. He plans to go to Flathead Valley Community College next year unless he gets some college baseball offers. Until then, he said he plans to stick with the formula that has gotten him this far: “Get a job and play baseball.”