Lucas Still can imagine a more rigorous summer.
He could be working: digging ditches, laying pipe, yanking off shingles in the oppressive heat. Instead, the recent Christian Brothers High School graduate and Bee All-Metro baseball selection has worked on his craft, soaking in the sun and hundreds of innings playing with the Sacramento Legends Baseball Club.
Surrounded by players his age or a bit older, Still has enjoyed a mix of the “boys of summer” and “band of brothers.” The Legends are a collegiate summer group, like others across the country that compete at the modest level. Small crowds, cozy settings, long trips by any means possible – bus, caravan, car pool. Payment comes in the form of experience and improvement.
“A great time,” said Still, a pitcher with an 8-1 record. “In past summers, I’d play maybe 30 games. Now we’ve had 69 games. Even when you don’t play, you watch and learn, how to do things a different way, the grip of a ball. We’ve played good, competitive teams, and I’ve improved. We all have. There’s no way to get better than to just go out there and do it.”
The Legends are 48-21, basking in a Western Regional Championship with a deep roster comprised of local talent. Some, like Still, are headed out of state to play at colleges such as Willamette University in Oregon. Some already play at Sacramento City College – the home games are at Union Stadium on the Freeport Boulevard campus. Others hope to land at a four-year program or catch the eye of a scout.
And talk about a blissful grind. The Legends started the season in late May, have taken treks to Humboldt, Redding, Auburn, Marysville, the Bay Area and throughout Sacramento. It’s similar to a minor-league schedule, sans the perks. The Legends survived to see the season’s grand finale weekend in qualifying for the American Amateur Baseball Congress Stan Musial World Series in Farmingdale, N.Y., starting Aug. 6.
Within the Legends, one-time rivals have become allies and friends. Players who never met have become close.
Whitney High School graduate Jackson Watt is 3-0 with two saves and clinched the Western Regional title on the mound. He’s returning to Willamette for his junior year. Austin Schiber of Sac City is 6-3 with four saves. Third baseman Brian Ingram of Sac City hit .342 with six home runs and 47 RBIs. First baseman Brandon Langan, a recent Sheldon graduate, has 46 RBIs.
Utility player Matt Caselli of Sac City is hitting .346, outfielder Alex Muzzi of Sac City is hitting .337 and first baseman Dalton deVries of American River College is hitting .324.
Gill and his brothers grew up in a baseball family. Their beloved late father, Joe Gill, was a star player at Christian Brothers, where he later taught and coached for decades.
Steve Gill also played at CBS before pitching at Sac City for the 1998 state championship team that finished No. 1 in the country. The longtime sports information officer and public address voice for Sac City, Gill created the Legends in 2002 to keep baseball flowing in their veins. The mascot? Everyone is a legend in their own mind, Gill joked. The Legends reached the World Series in 2006 in Texas and won a state championship in 2012.
“Baseball means a lot to me,” Gill said. “We were brought up in the summers at Land Park, playing ball in the bushes, watching Dad coach, and my mom (Janet) was the scorekeeper. It still happens now, a family thing. I have three kids, ages 12, 5 and 2, running all over the place during games. Love it.
“For these guys who play on teams like this, it’s everything. Everyone wants to go to the next level – JC, college, the pros. Every baseball player keeps going until they’re told otherwise, or they realize it’s over and the bubble bursts. You hold onto the game. And there are guys across the country who play for years at all levels and never experience a championship. We have.”
Now the real hurdle looms, and it has nothing to do with holding runners on base or pitch counts. This is grass-roots baseball, and funding doesn’t come easy. Gill has 20 players he needs to get to New York in a matter of days at about $1,000 each with flights, lodging and meals.
The Legends set up a fundme.com account and this week made local TV and radio appearances to promote their cause. Today, at the Roseville Galleria and Arden Fair mall, Legends players will set up shop to talk baseball and collect donations. Regional Mountain Mike’s Pizza outlets are donating 20 percent of proceeds to the Legends’ cause.
“Baseball,” Gill explained, “is such a great game, but it’s not always cheap. It costs. We’re trying to find a way.”