Chanute summer baseball is back – just not in the way locals are used to seeing it.
Chanute Baseball has made its debut despite American Legion Baseball around the nation effectively cancelling the season in early May due to COVID-19. Still, the baseball organization seemed to encourage those who miss baseball around the nation can still play, just as long as these independent leagues did not operate under Legion rules and never referenced the American Legion brand.
The new Chanute team is independently funded, and is actively seeking sponsorships for uniforms, paying umpires, and other necessary expenses. Uniforms are in the process of being made.
Chanute Baseball coaches Jeremy Wheeler and Hunter Friederich are at the forefront of Chanute’s “first time in a long time” independent team.
“We have no patches, we can’t be called anything to do with Legion, we are strictly Chanute Baseball,” Wheeler said on Thursday night, the second full week of baseball practice. “I was going to coach the junior Legion team. When they cancelled Legion, basically we have 15 kids out there that want to play baseball. And we have 15 parents on board. And I have a bunch of southeast Kansas coaches that want to play, too.”
Chanute Baseball comprises the core 2019 junior Legion baseball team and added a couple of upperclassmen. The team will strictly represent the town of Chanute, and the same goes for each town Chanute plays.
When Legion baseball was officially cancelled, Wheeler said he coordinated with other southeast Kansas coaches, who were all on board to play independently and to determine specifics for the schedule, including doubleheaders and the number of innings to be played. Standard umpires have even agreed to officiate the games.
Chanute Baseball will focus on 14 doubleheaders, a total of 28 games. There may also be a tournament in Coffeyville that hosts four teams on a Sunday.
“I have 15 kids out there right now that’s not going to play in a Zone or a State (Legion Tournament), and they’re going to play 30 games and they’re going to be at practice every day,” Wheeler said. “Number one strong suit is they are committed to playing and they are committed to coming out to practice. They will come out and play and everybody is on board. I have 15 kids that want to play. We are not Legion. We are Chanute Baseball.”
Overall, there are eight infielders and seven outfielders. And everybody on the team can pitch.
Beginning the roundup of players is Blake Atwood, a 17-year-old Chanute High School senior outfielder and pitcher. Atwood, who last year played on the junior Legion team and CHS’ junior varsity team, is a good fielder and a solid pitcher.
AJ Robertson is a 17-year-old CHS senior outfielder. Robertson also played on the junior Legion team a year ago, and was a junior varsity member of the Blue Comets as well. Robertson has a knack for tracking fly balls and is a contact hitter.
Caden Schwegman, a 17-year-old senior pitcher and infielder, last season hit his first home run for the senior Legion team. In the field, Schwegman attacks the baseball before taking his time to ensure solid throws to first base. At the plate, Schwegman works on his balance and is also a contact hitter.
CHS senior catcher Lane Roberts was the main catcher for junior varsity last year. Over the last year, Roberts has made it a point to become a better baseball player, and some attributes that should really be noticeable this year are his contact hitting, and his ability to block behind the plate. Roberts is also one of the leaders on the team.
“I really enjoy it,” Roberts said. “I really didn’t know how much I missed baseball until the first day we practiced. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy the sport. That’s the reason why I try to play this sport all year around instead of playing many other sports.”
Braxton Harding, a 16-year-old junior third baseman, was part of the Legion baseball team that was just one game away from going to State a year ago. Harding is a good overall fielder, and his hitting is in development.
Kaiden Barnett, a 16-year-old CHS junior second baseman/short stop, played at Humboldt High School his freshman year. Barnett said his most comfortable positions are the middle infield, and he attributes some of that to the chemistry he has with one of his teammates.
“I put in a lot of work in the middle infield,” Barnett said. “’Schweggy,’ Caden Schwegman, No. 14. Me and him played middle infield there since probably we were eight years old.”
CHS junior Tevyn James, a 16-year-old first baseman, was also on the junior legion team last year. At the plate, James is a power hitter, while as a first baseman he can dig poorly-thrown balls.
Gage Guiot, a 16-year-old pitcher, catcher and infielder who will graduate from CHS in 2022, went to a Kansas University baseball camp last summer to work on his pitching mechanics and speed. Guiot used this time to get better last year after being a member of the Legion junior team and the Blue Comet’s junior varsity team, as well as a travel team out of Burlington, the Strykers. Barnett and Schwegman are also on the travel team. Guiot has developed his power as a hitter, and on the mound he is pushing 90 mph.
Fourteen-year-old CHS freshman second baseman Rhett Smith is little different than most players on Chanute Baseball. This is his first year on the team and he said he is just trying to make new friends and get used to the new environment. The strong suit for Smith is his hitting, and he does a good job in the field.
“I feel like we have really good team chemistry,” he said. “We talk good and we’ve got a lot of guys that know what they are doing out there.”
Bryan Jackett, a 16-year-old sophomore who was part of CHS’ first State wrestling championship in school history, also plays catcher. Jackett is a thinker at bat, aiming at different spots depending on what bases the runners are on. Behind the plate, he tries to block everything thrown at him to keep opposing runners from scoring.
Rylan McVey is a 16-year-old center fielder. Last year McVey was on a travel team in Joplin, and earned Player of the Game at least three times. McVey is a good communicator, solid outfielder and can beam a throw to home. At the plate, he is a contact hitter.
Camden Hugo is a 16-year-old CHS junior pitcher. Last year, he pitched a no-hitter for the American Legion junior team. Hugo has a decent arm, throwing strikes and hitting the ball hard at the plate.
Other players on the team are Tyson Lucas, Keondre Gregory and Cohwen Wheeler. Wheeler is a 14-year-old freshman infielder and outfielder. He is another player who prides himself in playing as many games as possible and is a solid contact hitter.
Both Lucas and Gregory played on the junior legion team last season, and both are contributors on offense and defense.
Chanute Baseball’s first two games are 6 and 8 pm Monday at Katy Park versus St. Paul. Games roll throughout June, all the way up to July 28.