The Nashua Legion culture changed for the better

There likely won’t be any practices for the newly crowned state Senior American Legion state champions from Nashua Post 124 in preparation for their New England Regionals competition later next week.

Well-deserved break? Maybe a couple of strategy sessions?

Heck no. They’ve got a tournament to compete in in Rhode Island.

That’s the culture that Nashua field manager Tim Lunn has created. He’s had some help, because the persistence of general manager Steve Hernandez, who is stepping down after this summer, certainly has been a factor.

“It’s been a long road,” a giddy Hernandez said the other day during the post title game celebration at Holman Stadium after Nashua topped Exeter for its first state title since 1998.

Remember the history. Nashua Legion teams used to be referred to as Coffey Post 3, but all sorts of issues – financial and otherwise, nearly destroyed Legion ball for Nashua back in 2013.

But Hernandez kept it going. After financial disagreements concerning the team with Coffey Post officials, the team went rogue. Hudson Post 48 sponsored the team – you just need a Legion contact to field a team – and Hernandez & Co. raised money to keep things going. At one point the program may have missed a half a season.

Legion programs come, Legion programs go. Two years ago Exeter, which was in Tuesday’s finals, ran out of players as the talented group from Exeter High School’s title run chose better, perhaps higher level summer baseball options. The team had to drop out of the state tournament, and was allowed back into the program by state legion exaulted ruler Rick Harvey (we say that it jest, Rick works hard to keep Legion ball relevant) with certain guarantees. It went 3-13 last year.

That summer of 2013, the Nashua legion team wore uniforms that just said “Nashua” on the front. The break with Coffey – which has had its own non-baseball issues, including a shutdown in 2015 for alleged violations –was complete. And certainly given what had happened, it was for the better.

Enter an entity called Post 124, which does not have a building, etc. but has a Facebook account and a team. What more can you ask for?

However, Post 124, Hernandez said, may dissolve by next summer and the Nashua team may have to be partnered with perhaps Hollis or Hudson, similar to 2013. According to Hernandez, Coffey Post officials said they weren’t interested.

That’s probably a good thing. Who knows? Somehow this thing will keep going. Meanwhile, it’s been a peaceful six years. Lunn, a sub-varsity coach at Bishop Guertin, apprenticed under former Nashua Legion manager Kevin Palanski. Then a few years ago he took the reins. He should have a high school head job.

“It’s all Tim,” Hernandez said. “He’s put this program together, he’s done everything. I’m behind the scenes, but I don’t do anything. I chose the right people.”

Lunn has amped things up, a 40-plus game schedule including top tournaments, etc., to go along with the regular District B slate.

“With Steve’s help behind the scenes, I’ve been pretty much able to do what I wanted to on my own,” Lunn said. “We kind of made some changes in the way we’ve done things. We do tryouts early, early, early so we can lock these kids up so they don’t go off to those AAU teams.

We’re starting to build a program.”

Proof of that: Lunn is expecting to lose about 11 players (age eligibility) from this year’s team, but there is a Junior Legion program in place and he’ll get 10-11, he says, moving up. We’ll just have to see where the funding comes from.

“We’re building that sort of program, continuity, the kid of teams kids want to play for,” Lunn said.

“He had to want to do it,” Hernandez said. “And they did it. They freakin’ did it. Great team, great coach, great players, it was awesome.”

So a lot of credit has to be given to the adults who six years ago acted like adults in the best interests of the players. Tuesday’s title wiped out a lot of frustration – the struggles of baseball at Nashua High School North and South, Bishop Guertin’s quarterfinal ouster, Hollis Brookline’s tough Division II title game loss. Mix in some college kids – heck, first baseman Zach Finkelstein knows nothing but trophies after winning a Canadian national championship with McGill University last fall – and you’ve got a winner.

“It’s just great to get a state championship with a bunch of, great group of guys,” top Nashua player Brett Anderson said. “We get to compete all spring against these kids, North, South, and all that. We get to all come together and win a state championship, it’s pretty cool.”

“We continue to put a team out,” Lunn said. “We’re competitive. We just couldn’t get over that hump. It’s a credit to all these kids, buying in, and wanting to represent their city. There’s something to be said for those kids who want to do that. I think it’s a really cool thing for them.”

Something to be said for the adults who kept this thing going, too. Remember, when it comes to Legion baseball, things can change in the blink of an eye.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK, or tking@nashuatelegraph.com