By Mal Boright
American Legion baseball has long been a summer seminar for high school players just reaching full potential when their short (14 to 18 games) interscholastic schedule ends the first days of June.
Add first-year, age-eligible college players returning for the summer, and the legion program rises a notch or two above the high school variety.
One such returnee this year is former Champlain Valley Union High catcher Hayden Smith, who recently completed his freshman year at Skidmore College in Albany, N.Y. And yes, he was a member of the Skidmore baseball team as a freshman. Smith has joined the Essex American Legion team along with five other CVU players, and the unit is rolling along with a 15-6 mark entering Tuesday’s home contest against South Burlington, which also has a group of Redhawks.
Smith is catcher for Essex and is also solid at the plate with an average he estimates is in the .400 range. Other CVU veterans on the team are Deagan Poland, Sam Mikell, Henry Provost, Chris O’Brien and Smith’s brother Tanner.
The move by CVU players to the Essex and South Burlington teams came about when the S.D. Ireland team dropped out of the Legion league two years ago. Williston players caught on with Essex while Shelburne and Charlotte residents were picked up by South Burlington.
Being a receiver on the ball field fits perfectly with Smith’s summer job at Williston’s Vermont Meat & Seafood market, where the (a-hem) catch of the day is a focus. He also does landscaping for a second job.
So what is it like to return after a spring of college ball?
“It has been great,” Smith told the Observer this week. “It is fun to come back and see everybody and it has been great competition.”
He noted that the games against South Burlington and many of his old teammates have added zing.
The other players at Essex come from Essex High, Mount Mansfield Union and Division 2 champ Lamoille Union.
Smith says Legion baseball was helpful in his step into the college ranks with its five games per week schedule and daily repetitions.
As the lone Vermonter on the Skidmore team, Smith found the game a “lot faster” and players more talented.
“You pay attention to everything in practice,” Smith said, “because if you make a mistake in competition, you pay.” He added that in high school, one might be able to get away with a mistake, but not at the next level.
He is looking forward to his sophomore year next spring. “I feel a lot better about it now. I hope to make much more of an impact.”
This past season, a young Skidmore combine went 12-23 for the season.
Smith’s baseball life began in the Williston Little League and then to the Vermont Outlaws for two years before CVU, where he was part of two Division 1 title teams for coach Tim Albertson.
Of his overall game, where has the most improvement been? (He does have a rocket for an arm, as frustrated base stealers will attest.)
“Hitting,” he said, “and it is what I have worked on the most. Coach Albertson helped a lot with coaching during the winters.”
Smith’s college work is in exercise science. He hopes to become a physician’s assistant.