Smith helps Legion celebrate in Cooperstown

Part of the HOFVISITS series
Written by: Isabelle Minasian

Of the 329 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an astounding 81 of them played American Legion Baseball.

So it was fitting that the American Legion would celebrate its 100th anniversary at Cooperstown.

Legion members packed the Plaque Gallery on Friday, March 29, to listen to remarks from National Commander Brett P. Reistad, Past National Commander and Chairman of the American Legion 100th Anniversary Observance Committee David K. Rehbein and New York Department Commander Gary Schacher. Also on hand was former American Legion Baseball player and Class of 2019 Hall of Famer Lee Smith.

Smith’s opening remarks touched on what Legion Baseball meant to him.

“It’s unbelievable to think of how my life came full circle, from being a 16 or 17 year old playing American Legion Baseball, and now coming back here to Cooperstown to see you all again.”

Later on, Smith sat down and elaborated on his experiences as an America Legion Baseball player in Natchitoches, La.

“I think American Legion Baseball really started my career,” Smith said. “It helped me really learn and understand the game, why coaches do certain things, learning how to read a batter, learning not only how to pitch around guys but learning when to go in and go out.”

As a closer Smith often found himself in high-stress, high-leverage situations, but credited lessons learned while playing Legion Baseball.

“The one thing I learned so much from my coach is to go out there and put your best foot forward. Don’t second guess yourself,” Smith said. “As a closer I have a thick skin. You go out there and you don’t do well, you want to shy away from the media, but I think that really was a thing for me.

“I didn’t fail a lot at American Legion Baseball, but it taught me the game, how to handle myself.”

The next time the towering right-hander will return to Cooperstown will be July 19-21, when he will officially be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Among Smith’s guests for that weekend will be a number of his American Legion Baseball teammates, including his good friend and catcher Charlie Cockfield and his former coach, James Morgan.

Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the HOFVISITS series