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'Mr. American Legion Baseball' Goes to Bat for Boys of Summer

July 04, 1985|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Ray McKinstry strolled down the aisle at Blair Field. It was Father's Day and he had come to be with his boys, the boys of summer, the boys who play American Legion baseball.

Albert Raymond McKinstry has walked amateur baseball fields many times before. Spring and summer weekends and weeknights at Blair Field. Days spent promoting legion efforts and evenings seeking support for its various programs. Summer journeys to state, regional and national tournaments.

As commander of Arthur L. Peterson Post No. 27 in Long Beach, McKinstry is also the commissioner of the legion's District 19 baseball program. The district encompasses an area that includes 13 teams in the South Bay, 7 in Long Beach and 5 in the Norwalk/Southeast area. McKinstry, who will turn 75 in December, has been district commissioner since 1971 and post commander for 30 years.

Nationally, the American Legion baseball program fields 2,600 teams each spring. Legion Junior Baseball, celebrating its 60th season this month, started in Milbank, S.D., in 1925 to provide what legionnaire literature calls "a program of service to the youth of America."

Legion baseball is highly regarded among professional baseball scouts as a place for players in their final years of high school or first year of college to showcase or polish their talents.

The program receives a large portion of its funding from major league baseball--an estimated $70,000 nationwide in 1985. That money, in conjunction with the volunteer efforts of legionnaires like McKinstry, enables the American Legion to offer regional, state and national playoffs.

In his office in the recently constructed California Veterans Memorial State Office Building in Long Beach, McKinstry is bustling with energy.

It's Tuesday--the only day in his busy week that McKinstry has time to spare. For nearly three hours, in the tiny, first-floor cubicle, he spins nonstop tales of yesteryear. Overhead hangs a large black and white portrait of Arthur L. Peterson, a Long Beach fireman killed in World War I, for whom the post is named.

McKinstry's eyes sparkle behind wire-framed glasses as he speaks of the memories and evolution: Of a 1963 national legion title won by a team from the Peterson post, the last in the history of District 19; of long trips to playoff games with his wife, Beatrice; of the growing lack of support for legion baseball in Long Beach; of changed attitudes on the part of today's players, and of his frustrating search for sponsors for a national regional tournament at Blair Field in August.

Free With His Opinion

It is vintage McKinstry and, like the free time he gives each week to the post, he also volunteers his opinions.

- On promoting American Legion baseball: "Only one in 10 (people) know it is going on."

- About the status of American Legion baseball: "It's being used as a training ground for younger players by high school coaches. You don't find the number of volunteers like you used to."

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- Regarding legion baseball's relationship with pro baseball: "I counted it up the other day and there are 17 players for the Angels and 18 on the Dodgers that played American Legion baseball."

- On community support for the program: "I don't think Long Beach supports the programs it has. Without parents we wouldn't have any support. The population doesn't support us."

- On why he spends so much time on the legion program: "I'm the nervous type. I've always got to be involved with something I like to do. I enjoy baseball."

- And about the attitude of today's young players: "There are too many leagues here (Southern California). Everyone is vying for the services of the kids. Their (the players) attitude isn't as strong as it used to be. A lot don't put out 100%."

Beatrice McKinstry said her husband is "the youngest 75-year-old person alive."

"He always has something going."

McKinstry was born in Seattle, but moved to Long Beach in 1921. He attended Poly High in 1928 and '29, but returned to Washington and graduated from high school there in 1930. He returned to Long Beach later that year.

Asthma kept him out of action when he was in the Army during World War II. When his infantry division went to fight in the South Pacific, he came home.

In 1944, a friend convinced him to join the legion. It has been a relationship he's never regretted.

"When you join an organization you've got to get something out of it," he said. "If you don't get involved, stay home, you're wasting your money."

Philosophy Permeates Work

That philosophy permeates McKinstry's work in the legion baseball program. His $100-a-year stipend hardly covers the hours he puts in on the baseball program.

"It's something I like to do," he said. He hesitated, then added, "I like baseball. If I quit, this program is going downhill. Nobody will volunteer the time and effort it requires to do this job."

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