Claremore's American Legion organization has sponsored a summer baseball program for the past 60 years.

As the Diamond Anniversary season begins in full force this week, some important improvements are in place on the playing field known as the diamond.

Two separate programs will be conducted under the Legion umbrella, according to local baseball commissioner Paul Pixley. More than 60 games are scheduled for Legion Field.

"We will have two teams of boys, age 17 and under, playing in the Diamond League, plus an older and more experienced Prospect Team known as the Rogers County Rangers,” Pixley said.

The Diamond League was formed a few years ago by Tulsa area high school coaches. It was created to provide competitive summer baseball while maintaining the cohesiveness of high school teams into the summer months. Although the schools are not officially involved, usually, as the case will be here, the high school coaches will direct play. This allows them to legally prepare for the future.

Claremore's young clubs will be known as the Red Team and the White Team.

Zebra coach Matt Murray and assistants Russell Walden, Ryan Huff, Derby Kinnard, Jim Sheryl and Jeff Faulconer will coach both squads. The teams will play doubleheaders under the state high school federation rules. Each contest is scheduled for seven innings with a one- hour, 45-minute time limit.

In a throwback to earlier years, wooden bats will be legal.

Rosters for the two teams had 34 players listed as their season kicked off last week. All players will be attending Claremore schools for the 2006-07 year.

This is not the case for the Ranger team. Under coach Todd Bingham, the team has been formed by invitation only.

All of the players, with one exception, have graduated from high school. Five, all pitchers, each have one year of college baseball experience.

The lone Ranger still in high school is Oologah outfielder Justin Edwards.

“He just completed his sophomore year and is the only underclassman we have. He is that good,” Bingham said. “Justin would be wasting his time if he played on a younger team and competed against boys his age."

Over the next couple of months, Edwards and the rest of the Rangers will be playing, perhaps, the best schedule an area team has ever played.

"We will be playing a Prospect League schedule and going against some of the top teams around," Bingham said. "We will be bringing in the top players from the Rogers County area and we will field an exceptional squad of players.”

Serving on Bingham's staff will be some familiar names and faces. Buddy Chassion will be the first-base coach while Bradley Talbert will coach at third. They are, respectively, Sequoyah and Claremore graduates. Jim Pitts, a 30-year coaching veteran, will serve as bench and bullpen coach. He and Bingham have been together for the past 20 baseball seasons.

Bingham was the Oologah Legion coach the past six years, directing his teams to four state tournaments. He has compiled an impressive roster. Joining the college players will be recent high school graduates from Claremore, Oologah, Sequoyah and Owasso.

"These young men were each hand picked and we will be playing with the best from the surrounding area," Bingham said. "There were three others from Claremore we would have liked on the team, but each decided to not play summer ball so they can get a jump on college. Verdigris has a good high school program, but they didn't have any seniors this year."

One key change going into effect this year is the age limit for the older team. In past years, players could not be over the age of 18 in the calendar year.

Another change deals with the schedule. Until now, a Legion team could not play a non-Legion opponent.

Pixley and Bingham agree that the new format improves the Claremore program.

"This allows us to now match up with the Bartlesvilles and the Enids, both long-time Legion baseball powerhouses who started the Prospect teams a few years back," Bingham said.

Enid is the defending American Legion world champion. Enid will be visiting Claremore’s Legion Field on July 18.

Another attractive game features Northern Oklahoma College-Enid. The junior college will play at Legion Field on June 16.

The Prospect games will be nine innings with no time limit. More traditional rules are followed.

"We are going to have a very good team. We want the area residents to come out and watch us play," Bingham said. "We will have an exciting type of baseball. Our team and the ones we will play will not be much different from minor league teams. People can spend their money and time driving to Tulsa to see the Drillers, or they can come to Legion Field and witness the same style of baseball.

"I know this, most coaches want to schedule home and away games, but because of our park, they are willing to come here regardless of getting a return match. That's why we have more home games for our fans to attend.”

The Rangers will host Oklahoma City Spivey at 7 p.m. Friday in the season opener. Fayetteville, Ark., will join them in a three-game round-robin on Saturday.



Rangers Roster



Kyle Head, Pryor, Cowley Community College, pitcher

Kyle Stafford, Claremore, Northern Oklahoma College-Enid, pitcher

Matt York, Claremore, Rogers State, pitcher

Nathan Gilsleider, Claremore Christian, Hesston (Kansas) College, pitcher

J.C. Chaisson, Oologah, Rogers State, pitcher

Greg Harmon, Claremore, 1b-of

Steffon Williams, Claremore, of

Zane Williams, Claremore, c

Clint Herron, Owasso, pitcher

Josh Beal, Owasso, pitcher

Matt Sparks, Owasso, pitcher

Vincent Pironti, Owasso, pitcher-catcher

Aaron Conger, Sequoyah, catcher-pitcher

Curt Simpson, Oologah, pitcher-inf-of

Jeff Bradshaw, Oologah, 3b

Tyler Harold, Oologah, inf-of

Blake Kelley, Oologah, inf

Justin Edwards, Oologah, of





Rangers Schedule



June

2 — OC Spivey, 7 p.m.

3 — Fayetteville, Ark., 1 p.m.; OC Spivey, 7 p.m.

4 — OC Spivey, 1 p.m.

7 — Bartlesville, 7 p.m.

8 — at Bartlesville, 7 p.m.

9 — Springdale, Ark., 7 p.m.

10 — Joplin, Mo., 1 p.m.; Mustang, 7 p.m.

11 — Mustang, 1 p.m.

13 — at Bartlesville, 7 p.m.

15 — at Enid, 7 p.m.

16 — Northern Oklahoma College-Enid, 7 p.m.

17 — at Midwest City: vs. MWC Outlaws, 3 p.m.; vs. Woodward, 6 p.m.

18 — Girard, Kansas, 1 p.m.

21 — Stillwater, 7 p.m.

27 — Caney, Kansas, 7 p.m.

29 — at Fayetteville, Ark., 7 p.m.

30 — Independence Day Tournament, TBA



July

1 — Independence Day Tournament, TBA

2 — Independence Day Tournament, TBA

5 — at Okmulgee, 7 p.m.

7 — Wagoner, 7 p.m.

8 — Wagoner, 1 p.m.; Edmond, 7 p.m.

10 — Caney, Kansas, 7 p.m.

11 — at Springdale, Ark., 7 p.m.

15 — at Bartlesville, 1 p.m.

16 — Fort Smith, Ark., 3 p.m.

17 — at Stillwater, 7 p.m.

18 — Enid, 7 p.m.

20 — at Northern Oklahoma College-Enid, 7 p.m.

22 — Wagoner, TBA

24 — Miami, 7 p.m.



August

2 — Beginning of State Tournament