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Local players are sliding into summer with the return of the 13-team league for American Legion baseball. Two area teams, from American Legion posts in Oceanside and Encinitas, are among the participants. Courtesy photo
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Raise the flag as American Legion baseball is a hit

The boys of summer are back, and we salute them and those that make it possible.

American Legion baseball was once a staple. Local American Legion posts would sponsor teams, and teenagers would experience the joys and pitfalls of competing in our national pastime.

But the competition for the players’ time increased, with American Legion baseball taking a backseat to travel ball and other sports.

Yet, there’s been a resurgence in San Diego County, with a 13-team league starting this week that features squads from Encinitas and Oceanside.

“We got good teams and a good league,” said Peter-Rolf Ohnstad, a retired Navy pilot and commander of the San Dieguito American Legion Post 416. “And we’re always raising funds to make it happen.”

American Legion baseball seldom strikes out, and how could it?

Unlike travel ball costs, which can restrict participants from playing, American Legion baseball is free.

We’ll repeat that line for parents who have scribbled checks into the thousands of dollars for travel ball.

American Legion baseball is free.

Free, of course, for the players, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bills to pay. That’s where Ohnstad comes in, and in recent years, he’s recruited a sidekick to shake the trees for green in Dennis Ackerman.

“My goal is to go out and beat the drum for these kids,” said North County’s Ackerman, who estimated the league costs $50,000 to operate each season.

Ackerman’s name is synonymous with youth sports as a former CIF San Diego Section commissioner. Well before Ackerman started calling the shots, he saw his late father, Allen, embrace American Legion baseball with an impressive passion.

What the younger Ackerman witnessed was his father coaching and mentoring teenagers in the Claremont area for decades, and they returned that love until he died in 2017.

Recently, Allen Ackerman was inducted into the California American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He did everything,” Ackerman said. “He helped a lot of kids. I remember he showed me a letter once that a player had sent him, years later, thanking him for all he did.”

The elder Ackerman’s response?

“This one letter,” he told his son, “makes all that time worth it.”

His legacy is present through the work of his son and the hard-charging Ohnstad, a Carlsbad resident. They are making it possible for some 300 players, aged 19 and younger, to play ball without them or their parents reaching into their pockets.

But their players’ reach can be considerable in the American Legion posts, which are filled with proud veterans. Many members attend the games, going all in on cheering the teenagers while serving a slice of Americana on the side.

“We certainly aren’t doing it to make any money,” Ackerman said. “The coaches are doing it for the love of the game.”

The coaching is top-notch, too.

Oceanside’s American Legion Post 760 has the Vipers and Dave Barrett, the longtime and decorated leader of Oceanside High School baseball, as its coach.

Ohnstad’s grandson, A.J., a rising sophomore at La Costa Canyon High, plays on the San Dieguito Post 416 United squad, which is coached by Scott Brunn. A.J. Ohnstad is joined by his LCC teammates, Jonah Back and Luke Ivy.

Again, there’s no need to scratch a check to play American Legion baseball.

There is a need to scratch one to ensure these players, many long on dreams and short on dough, can prove that a diamond can be a teenager’s best friend, too.

Ron Fowler, the former Padres owner and an American Legion player during his youth in Minnesota, has made an annual and generous donation for the six years the local league has been resurrected.

Then there’s a newcomer in Cardiff’s Cardinal Industries, which sponsors this month’s RADM Shelton Invitational. The event features area teams and others hailing from Yakima, Wash., to Newport Beach, Calif.

The tide has turned with American Legion baseball’s resurgence. If eager to keep it going, donate at [email protected].

The kids and a few parents will thank you.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports

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