The late Angelo Cerroni would have been proud of the scene at Dow James Memorial Park on Wednesday evening.
Tooele County’s Godfather of American Legion baseball had to have been looking down at his beloved baseball diamond with a smile on his face as the Tooele County Bears stepped onto the field to face Taylorsville, marking the first time the navy-and-blue-clad local squad had played a game in more than a decade.
For whatever reason, Legion ball hadn’t occupied the same stature in Tooele since the turn of the millennium as it had during Cerroni’s heyday, but this year, there’s a new generation ready to bring it back.
Led by 20-something Tooele baseball coach Nolan Stouder, all of Tooele County has a single team it can get behind. Sure, Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville all have their own varsity and junior-varsity squads taking part in summer leagues, but it isn’t quite the same. The Bears provide a chance for all three schools to come together and create a “superteam” — a greatest-hits album, if you will, of the best baseball players Tooele County has to offer.
If you ever wondered what would happen if Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville high schools merged into one behemoth Class 6A school, the Bears provide a little taste of it. Wonder what Tooele’s baseball team would have looked like this past season with Stansbury’s Austin Woodhouse in the lineup? Well, there he was in the late innings on Wednesday, playing second base for the Bears between Tooele first baseman Griffen Bate and shortstop Jaxson Miner. What if Stansbury added some of Tooele’s pitchers to its staff? Recent THS graduate Payton Shields had seven strikeouts in five innings before giving way to former SHS star Kaden Nicholes.
This ought to be fun to watch from a pure baseball standpoint. But there’s more to it than that.
If this relaunched Tooele County American Legion team succeeds on the field, it could open a lot of doors for these players. Stouder, who has been Tooele’s coach for the past three seasons, marveled at the talent he’s seen from the valley’s three schools. He also lamented the fact that that talent all too often gets ignored — likely because people tend to forget there’s anything on this side of the Oquirrh Mountains while those along the Wasatch Front get all the attention.
However, if the Bears can make some noise against some of those Wasatch Front teams, perhaps some of those professional scouts and college coaches will start to take notice. After all, the Tooele Valley had all three of its teams reach the state tournament this past year. Grantsville is a year removed from a state championship. Stansbury won multiple region championships over its first 10 seasons of existence. Tooele is a program on the rise. None of that happens without high-level talent.
The only reason that talent flies under the radar is geography. Tooele isn’t on the Wasatch Front. Nor is it in sunny St. George, in close proximity to Las Vegas and southern California. But if these Bears succeed, the scouts and college coaches will come.
And that’s exactly what Cerroni, a former major-league scout himself, would have wanted.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He is looking forward to seeing how the Bears come together this season. Email him at email@example.com.