MIFFLINTOWN - For the first time in several years, there will be American Legion baseball in Juniata County.
The newly formed team, sponsored by Mifflintown American Legion Post 298, will take West Snyder's place in the Susquehanna Valley American Legion League.
The 18-man roster includes players from Juniata High School, East Juniata, Juniata Mennonite and even one from Mifflin County. Despite the new squad's lack of experience in the Susquehanna Valley League, manager Mark Mingle is in charge of a deep and talented roster that he thinks can fare quite well in the league.
One of the strengths of the team should be the pitching staff, a deep group that Mingle says could include up to ten different players seeing time on the mound throughout the season. Many of the position players can also play more than one position, which is why Mingle says he expects to see contributions from each and every player on the roster in some capacity this season.
Juniata may not yet have the American Legion experience of neighbor and Central Penn League member Mifflin County, but that shouldn't be a deterrent for this club. As Mingle notes, he has coached many of the players on the Juniata roster at some point in time, either in Little League (including postseason all-star play) or Junior Little League, and has seen the majority of his other players in high school or previous seasons of American Legion ball on other teams.
"We do have some experience in this league as six to eight of our players have played in the Senior Legion program last year for various teams," Mingle said.
That experience should come in handy this season, especially when it comes to using wooden bats, a feature of American Legion baseball that many players struggle with initially. Having a handful of players who have experience dealing with the change should make it a smoother transition for the other Juniata hitters, as well.
"I would think that as the season goes forward, we can gain a little experience and some confidence, as we adjust to the wooden bats," Mingle said.
Juniata will likely be one of the youngest teams in the Susquehanna Valley League as the three oldest players on the roster are high school seniors and nine of the 18 are either freshmen or sophomores. Those numbers indicate that this is a team that could improve year-to-year into one of the league's best teams, even with the annual turnover summer clubs like this usually experience.
Not that it will be easy to vault to the top of the Susquehanna Valley League standings - it's a tough league with few opportunities to play less-than-stellar baseball and succeed.
"I expect the Susquehanna Valley League to be a very challenging experience for our boys," Mingle said. "I had a chance to see some of these games last year and was very impressed with the quality of baseball played in this league."
Juniata will play its home games at the Juniata High School field, with an interleague opener on the road tonight at Mifflin County then a home opener Wednesday.
Juniata County's two high schools previously were split between two Legion teams' territories, with East Juniata and Greenwood players pairing in Millersville. Both of those teams played in the Dauphin County league. Juniata also had a junior program for one season that played in the SVALL; that team won the league in its only year of existence.