La PORTE — For Noah Christian and Seth Kupres, American Legion baseball has given them new life in the sport.
Each are grateful for the opportunity.
Teammates on La Porte Post 83 Hamon Gray, an American Legion Junior Division team, both were planning to play prep baseball last season for La Porte, but extenuating circumstances forced them to miss the campaign. The only two Post 83 players who didn't play some level of prep baseball this spring, they're referred to as 'walk-ons,' though each are aiming to play next year.
Christian suffered a right shoulder injury in March, ending his prep freshman season before it even began. He rehabbed the injury with physical therapy and is now flourishing on the American Legion circuit, which started three weeks ago.
“I was a little disappointed,” he said. “Because I know I most likely would have made the high school baseball team. But I'm going to go out there next year and show them what I got.”
Kupres played for the Slicers in 2018. However, he ended up getting dismissed from the team halfway through the season due to disciplinary reasons. That's also why Kupres wasn't on the prep squad this spring.
“I wanted to show them I wasn't going to give up, so I came out here to play,” said Kupres, who is also doing well for La Porte Post 83. “It was a little mistake. That's why I came out here to show them I'm not just going to give up.”
Kupres hopes to be on La Porte's high school team next year as well.
All of the players on La Porte Post 83 have played together since they were about 6 years old and the 17-and-under team features players from La Porte, Michigan City and South Central high schools.
They've been together roughly 10 years, and that familiarity breeds camaraderie, fun, and in turn, hopefully success.
“They're all good buddies,” Post 83 coach Kevin McGuire said. “Unfortunately, for other reasons, things didn't work out on the high school team, but that's neither here nor there. This is our team right now.”
McGuire has previously coached most of the players on Post 83, either in recreational baseball or travel baseball, so he's familiar with them.
As a result, he has seen Christian and Kupres develop as players and mature.
“Seth always has good energy,” McGuire said. “He's a vocal kid. Sometimes he gets a little annoying. But he's always vocal. We appreciate it. He's always trying to talk kids up. Noah is a go-hard kid all the time as well. You can see his legs on the bases. He does what he can. He takes advantage of his legs as much as possible. Both of them are pretty positive kids and we really enjoy having them on the team.”
Kupres brings enhanced energy every single day to the diamond, something McGuire acknowledged is important and something he pointed out to his team after its 9-3 win over Bristol Post 143 on Wednesday night at Ron Reed Field.
“Some players don't always have that same energy,” McGuire said. “So it's good because he's always trying to pick people up.”
While Kupres and Christian's attributes as players are essential, they recognize Legion baseball prepares them admirably for the prep game.
“It prepares me on the level of faster pitching and just kind of getting used to having to swing at inside, outside pitches, instead of just right down the zone,” Christian said. “And then, the curveball, working on hitting that properly.”
Likewise, Kupres mentioned learning to hit quality pitching, while at the same time, becoming familiar with future opponents.
“We get to see some of the kids we'll be playing against next year, like Valpo and Chesterton,” he said. “And when we went down to Kokomo, there's some better varsity teams out there, which helps us adapt to what high school pitchers are going to be throwing.”
Without hesistation, Kupres called the road trips his favorite part of Legion ball.
“I like traveling, traveling's pretty fun and staying in hotels,” he said. "Just getting to know your team more. That's how you grow as a team and play better.”
Christian isn't taking for granted playing on this Legion team and enjoys every bit of it.
“It means a lot,” he said. “All the guys here are great. It's all positive vibes. It's fun to be out here and play with them.”
Next spring, Kupres will be a junior at La Porte, while Christian will be a sophomore Slicer.
But first, they're gunning to guide Post 83 to a superb season.
One of its goals is to qualify for the state tournament and hopefully make a deep run. To advance to the state tournament, Post 83 has to win a single-elimination regional among four or five other northwest Indiana teams.
If the team is going to succeed in the state tournament, Kupres knows the significance of aggressive hitting, in addition to exceptional defense and an even-keeled demeanor.
“We've got to attack that first pitch because most pitchers are going to throw a first-pitch fastball,” he said. “And then, we can't make errors. We've got to have a minimum of one error a game. And we can't bring our own teammates down. When we do make an error, we've just got to keep their heads up and keep going and keep playing.”
In the end, Christian is relishing the chance to compete in the state tournament.
“I'm very excited to compete in that,” he said. “I hope we make it really far and win it all if we can.”