News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

July 25, 2012

Bankrolling baseball success: Local Legion team hasn’t lacked funding

PUTNAMVILLE — Fans visiting Terre Haute North’s Don Jennings Field for American Legion regional baseball this weekend may or may not notice Charlie Gross and Mike Patrick.

The two longtime members of Wayne Newton Post 346 don’t beg for attention; indeed, they do everything they can to avoid the spotlight.

But they — and other Legion members like them — are certainly a part of the success achieved annually by this week’s host team, and no one knows that better than the team’s manager John Hayes.

“They’re invaluable,” Hayes said of Gross and Patrick recently. “They’re a big part of our baseball program.”

The Post 346 team is successful year in and year out for many reasons, but a big — and not often publicized — reason is the consistent financial support it gets from its post. Knowing his team has a sound and consistent source of funding enables Hayes to have a program that can compete with the best teams in the nation and does so, playing in some of the most prestigious tournaments in the Midwest to prepare for postseason competition — and without charging the players a fee to play.

Gross and Patrick, both of whom have held major officers in both the Wayne Newton post and in the statewide American Legion organization, are certainly part of that financial support — but so are many other post members, they’ll tell you.

When it comes to moral support, however, they have few peers.

“I’ve been following John and watching the kids [on the team] grow up [for about 25 years],” said Gross recently. “Me and Mike go to about all the games, and sometimes my wife [Linda] comes along.”

“I just like baseball, and it’s a real good program here,” Patrick agreed. “For the last 10 or 12 years I’ve been following the team. When they go to a tournament, [my wife Wee and I] usually go and stay. We’ve been to Paducah [Ky.] and Moline [Ill.] this year.”

“They started coming to games and they decided, ‘This is fun,’ ” Hayes said. “Now they make road trips with us, and go to tournaments.”

Gross, 71, is a 48-year American Legion member, having served in the Army from 1958-64, the Navy from 1965-68 and continuing in the reserves until 1977. At Wayne Newton, his offices have included post commander, finance officer, bingo chairman and sergeant at arms, and he’s also a past district commander and currently the southern vice commander for the state.

Patrick, 65, who spent “26 years roving around” in the Air Force, has been an American Legion member for 45 years, the last 18 of those at Wayne Newton. He is also a past post commander, finance officer and adjutant and has been a district commander and vice commander; he is currently on some state committees.

“In the Legion, we say it’s not what you pay to be a member, it’s the price you’ve already paid,” Hayes noted. “Members of our post support our baseball program, and we’re proud of that … they feel they’re still serving our country through our program.”

Their distinguished service and experience in leadership positions are not something Gross and Patrick wear on their sleeves, and at the ballpark there’s no job too big or too small. Look closely this weekend and you might see them taking tickets, raising the flag, perhaps even chasing foul balls.

“I like the game, and I like the kids,” Patrick said. “John does such a great job with this program.”

“When you come to know the kids and identify with them, it gets in your blood,” said Hayes, perhaps speaking for himself as well as Gross and Patrick. “We are blessed with not only good ballplayers but great kids.”

Hayes and his friends are looking forward not only to the remainder of postseason play for Post 346, but also to a significant financial commitment the next two summers.

Wayne Newton will be hosting the Great Lakes Regional in both 2013 and 2014 at Indiana State’s Bob Warn Field, and with that honor comes a $15,000 annual cost. “It’s going to be a little pushy now [raising that money],” Gross said.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Patrick agreed. “We’re hoping the community will be behind us, and the other veterans organizations may help us.”

“Thirty thousand dollars is a tough nut to swallow,” Hayes added, “but there’s no reason Terre Haute can’t get it done.”

Patrick and Gross are also looking forward to the 2013 and 2014 seasons for another reason.

“We have a couple of really good kids moving up [to the team] from our junior team,” Patrick noted, “so we’re pretty optimistic.”

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