The Watertown American Legion Post 121 baseball team is kicking off the home portion of its schedule this Thursday, and will feature several special guests at the game, one day after the anniversary of D-Day.
To kick things off, local World War II veteran Harry Johnson, who is 91 years old and has been a long-time member of American Legion Post 121, will raise the flag prior to the start of Thursday’s home opener. His granddaughter, Erin Schrupp, will sing the National Anthem before the game.
Johnson was on the third wave of the D-Day landing in 1944. He landed on Omaha beach and was injured in the Battle of the Bulge.
Elroy "Weed" Vidlund, who was also a veteran of World War II, will be throwing out the first pitch. Vidlund was in charge of an LST 1049 in the South Pacific from 1943-1946. He was involved in the Okinawa and the Philippines conflict. He also remembers Hiroshima. Vidlund was a town-team baseball player from 1943-75, which was interrupted for a few years of serving in the war. Vidlund played second base for 25 years and became an umpire for another 25 years.
On the field, this year’s Watertown Post 121 Legion team is expecting big things. The team hopes to make it the state tournament, and also potentially qualify for the National Regionals, held in Dickinson, N.D. The team is coming off a conference championship last summer.
The team got its season started with a doubleheader exhibition on Sunday against West St. Paul. The team hoped to challenge itself against a Division 1 team. Mark Sandquist, Max Zitzloff, Alex Runck, Andrew Nicols, Matt Elsenpeter, Adam Parker, Ben Cole, ben Hillman and P.J. Hangartner all had hits for Watertown. Cole and Zitzloff both hit balls off the wall for doubles.
This year’s team is once again coached by Steve Hangartner, who is in his sixth year leading the team. After going 1-11 in Hangartner’s first season, the team is 93-72 over the last five years.
This year the team will also have two college players serving as assistant coaches. Patrick Tschida, who recently played in the Division III Junior College World Series with St. Cloud Community and Technical College, and Ryan Hangartner, who plays for Bethel University, will both be on the coaching staff. Dan Schreder and Russ Runck will also help out when needed.
Watertown plays in Division II, which is for schools with enrollments of under 400 for grades 10-12. Other team’s playing in Watertown’s division and competing for playoff seeding include Lester Prairie, Plato, Sibley, Mayer, Norwood and Watertown.
The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. In 1925, the American Legion started its baseball program. About 82,000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams every year.
There is no admission charge for any of the American Legion team’s home games, and the concession stand will be open. Game time for Thursday’s season-opener, as well as most home games this year, is 7 p.m.