WHEELING - The minor leagues are coming to Wheeling, at least as far as the Post 1 American Legion program is concerned.
For the first time the organization will field 15-and-under and 16U squads, in addition to the regular Post 1 team, which is being referred to as the varsity.
It was announced Tuesday that Doug Costain, highly respected multi-sport official in the area, and coach of the Wheeling Braves travel team, will lead the 15U squad.
Some might call the two incoming teams the minor leagues, or they could be referred to as feeder programs. Either would be correct, Costain said.
''We're looking to build a program where kids are ready to come in and compete,'' Costain said. ''The kids will be dressed universally and will be playing the same system.
''The big thing is, we're trying to make Wheeling Post 1 Legion baseball a destination spot.''
Costain and first-year Post 1 manager Mark Delbrugge go way back, including having coached against one another. Costain said when Delbrugge approached him about the opening, it was a no-brainer to sign up.
''We had some good matchups in travel ball in the past and we are a lot alike,'' Costain said. ''We believe in the same things, like playing small ball. Don't be shocked to see us bunting guys over and doing a lot of hit-and run..
''No offense to rec league baseball, but I like to think exposing the kids to higher competition can only help.''
That's exactly what will happen, particularly with the two younger squads that for all intents and purposes will be travel teams, under the Post 1 umbrella. Costain estimates that his club, which opens Saturday at the I-470 Complex and will compete in the Atlantic Coast League out of Pittsburgh, will play between 35 and 50 games this season.
''The thing we're preaching is having a pretty good system and we're really all in right now,'' Costain said. ''Theoretically kids could move up and down'' like a minor-league system.
A new warning track is set to go in at the I-470 field, and fans will also see improved batting cages and the outfield fence moved in a bit. It's all part of what Costain and company hope is a renewed excitement about American Legion baseball, and Post 1 in particular.
''No. 1, we're trying to let these kids know what Legion is about, the veterans that support it,'' Costain said. ''We want to get alumni back involved.
''We've brought in (former player) Neil Tennant and he will handle all our PR, and there will be a website, Facebook, and Twitter popping up soon.''
Costain, who is assisted by Jeff Brown and Jim McAbee, a man largely responsible for getting the new press box built at the field, said the thought is this will get numbers back up to where they were in Wheeling's heyday. A long-time rule that allowed college freshmen to play is in its last year of existence, and that should create more opportunity.
''It's a change that makes sense,'' Costain said. ''Unless you are a very special kid you are sitting and watching a lot.
''We're trying to help the numbers.''
Costain said that his 15U team will largely consist of his most-recent Wheeling Braves team, which is mostly 14-year-olds.
''So we will be 'playing up,' '' he said. ''The only exception between the teams is, it doesn't matter where you live for the 15U and 16U teams since it is not technically Legion baseball.
''Anyone can play on those two teams.''
Delbrugge's staff has not been announced. Jon-Michael Brunner (Linsly), Scott Castilow (Wheeling Park), and Chris Kiedaisch (Linsly) will handle the 16U team.