NEVER BEFORE has a Maryland amateur team, in any sport, attained such prominence. The magnitude of what it accomplished can not be minimized. The American Legion World Series champion is the Mayo Post 226 of Edgewater, Md., which means it rates an invitation to talk with no less a baseball authority than an ex-first baseman who presides in the White House.
The governor of Maryland should have them at the State House for lunch and certainly the Baltimore Orioles are remiss if they don't honor them before a game with a reception and introductions of the players and coaches.
Mayo, by winning the national championship, proved it was the best of the 4,111 certified teams that participated in American Legion competition this year. They came from all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, which is an imposing numerical testimonial to what it achieved.
American Legion baseball has been around since 1926, which was one year before Charles Lindbergh was inspired to fly the Atlantic Ocean and Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in a season. In all that time, only two Maryland teams -- Baltimore Post 81 in 1930 and Cumberland Post 13 in 1934 -- have won the American Legion World Series.
In 1969, the Towson Post, managed by former major-league pitcher Lou Grasmick, went to the final game before losing to Portland, Ore., at Hastings, Neb. The American Legion program has sent countless graduates to the major leagues, even the Hall of Fame. Such talent, and longevity, explains why it has earned the ultimate in respect.
The Mayo team worked its way through area, state and regional playoffs to reach the World Series. Then it was confronted with representatives from Rockland, N.Y., Texarkana, Ark., Olathe, Kan., Midland, Mich., Kailua, Hawaii, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and the host, Corvallis, Ore. It was a double-elimination tournament, which meant that after losing the second game to Puerto Rico it couldn't afford another loss.
For the championship, it got another chance to meet Puerto Rico and won 7-6. The Most Valuable Player Award went to pitcher Mark Foster, a 1989 graduate of Old Mill High School, now a student at the University of Richmond, who won two games and hit .288 with 10 RBIs during the series.
It was a strange circumstance that prevented coach Bernie Walter from being present. He had the responsibility of accompanying the U.S. Junior National team to the World Championships in Cuba, which took precedence since he had earlier committed himself to the assignment. But three of his assistants, Wilfredo Trinidad, Charles "Tut" O'Hara and Warren Young, took care of directing the Mayo club in his absence and were equal to the task.
About the season, which saw Mayo finish with an overall record of 71-7, including play in three different leagues, Walter says, "I've been involved in coaching since 1964 and I don't believe any team has ever given me so much reason to be proud. Not a single player on our 18-man roster was taken in the major-league draft.
"But by playing American Legion, and lasting until the final game, before winning it all, they were the most-scouted team I have ever been around. Several have already received college scholarships. I'm happy for the entire team, but, you know, I wasn't really surprised."
And the reason? Because last year he witnessed the American Legion World Series in Millington, Tenn., and came home telling the Mayo players they were as good or better. Walter, the first man to coach three straight Maryland State American Legion champions, has been an outstanding teacher of the game at Arundel High School and other levels of competition.
Most of the Mayo players were from Arundel High or Old Mill High, plus Brett O'Dea, an outfielder from Canyon Springs (Calif.) High, who came here to spend the summer with his father, and won the Louisville Slugger Award for the highest batting average in regional and World Series activity. O'Dea went 20-for-40 (.500) and stole eight bases.
Walter Youse, a Milwaukee Brewers' scout, is elated for Mayo. "It's another outstanding accomplishment," he said. "I'm happy for Bernie, the other coaches and players. I was a coach on the Baltimore team that won in 1930. I was a little too old to play so I was a coach.
As a reward, the team will be guests at two games of the World Series and, hopefully, will be spotlighted at the "Tops In Sport" banquet staged in January by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association. Their effort deserves recognition . . . and, if he can find the time, a chance to discuss baseball with the president of the United States.