When it comes to small-town North Dakota, Eugene Kachena is your man. He's lived in the small Walsh County town of Pisek most of his life.
He's a native son of North Dakota. He led the North Dakota Department of the American Legion as commander in 2013 and 2014, a position that allowed him to travel the state. He's served the Legion in multiple other capacities.
And baseball? He's come up through the ranks. He played and umpired Legion baseball, and has been active in support and administration of Legion baseball in the state for decades.
He's currently the state Legion baseball Class B commissioner, and he strongly believes Legion baseball has a valuable role to play in small-town North Dakota.
"For me growing up and watching it, the value of Legion baseball is the camaraderie and socializing you do with one another. I think, as a society, we've found other ways to do that. But in my opinion it brings a community together," he said.
This summer, though, Kachena is sitting in the on-deck circle watching high school-age athletes play baseball under the banner of Senior Babe Ruth. The North Dakota American Legion pulled the plug on its baseball program for 2020 in April in deference to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
Nonetheless, all nine of what used to be the state's AA Legion teams are in action this summer. So, too, are many of the 17 Class A teams.
But Kachena is concerned about what's happening in the Class B ranks where the teams are supported by smaller communities. From what he's been able to piece together from the outside looking in, there's a decline in participation.
He's sure not all of the 48 communities that had signed up for Legion baseball in 2020 are active.
"Up here in the northeast corner there are a few that have had to quit because of virus concerns. It's kind of hit-and-miss throughout the state as far as I can see," he observed.
Kachena said he doesn't know what to expect when it comes time for communities to commit to Class B Legion baseball in 2021. He's hopeful the number of teams will rebound, but admits any prediction would be guesswork.
"I don't know how many B teams are going to respond when we go back to Legion baseball. ... We'd like to have them all back," he said.
"I really hope communities can go back to Legion baseball," Kachena added. "I think we've got a good program, and it's structured well."
Kachena said he loved baseball as a boy, and his feelings haven't changed.
"I've been on the (Legion baseball) committee for the last 10 years and did a lot of umpiring before that," he noted. "I've been around Legion baseball since I played it myself as a kid."
"If it wasn't for Legion baseball," he added, "I'd have been picking rocks and throwing bales."
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