FALCONER - It's hard to say exactly what was behind the demise of American Legion Baseball in Chautauqua County more than three decades ago, and if one was to pose the question to five people as to what happened, he'd likely get five different theories - each of them valid.
At its height, there were eight American Legion teams in the county, and four in the city of Jamestown alone. And despite it remaining a strong program throughout much of the rest of the United States over the years - there are currently more than 5,400 teams with some 100,000 players participating - its popularity began to wane in the Southern Tier in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
But in the end, it doesn't really matter why it disappeared; no, what matters is that American Legion Baseball is back.
After a 33-year hiatus, area ballplayers are once again participating in what has been, since its founding almost 90 years ago, one of the most popular amateur baseball leagues in America.
And they've got two local residents to thank for it.
The unlikely resurrection was spearheaded by Dennis Ayers, who is the manager of what is now Chautauqua County's lone American Legion squad, and Pete Ochocki, the commander of Post 1286 Lakewood American Legion.
Undertaking the project to re-establish a team some months ago, the pair, along with the help of generous baseball lovers, have raised nearly $5,000, which has gone towards player uniforms, hiring umpires and field upkeep.
"(The American Legion) contacted me because we'd had an 18-year-old travel baseball team last year," Ayers explained, "And the District (8, which comprises teams throughout Western New York) had recently lost two teams.
"And I told them I'd be interested in forming one."
Form he did, and with, it should be added, some top-tier talent.
Among the 18-member squad are members of the recent New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B state-title winning Fredonia Hillbillies, including Zach Buckley, Trent Thompson, Cam Voss, Jude Gardner and Chris Saden. There's also players from Falconer, Maple Grove, Westfield, Randolph and Jamestown High School.
Competing against high-level, oftentimes college talent on teams from Eden, West Seneca, Orchard Park, Allegany, Lancaster and Hamburg, among others, the squad, which plays its games on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays until early July at Falconer Park, is now 11 games into its inaugural 18-game season.
Ayers is assisted by Brad Young of Randolph, John Wiggers of Clymer and Bob Gunnell of Falconer.
And despite playing with a handicap of sorts - according to Ayers, by league rule first-year college-level players are not permitted to play with a team unless they were on that team the year before - the local team is playing hard.
Ayers and company next play at Allegany on Monday, return home for a contest with Hamburg on Wednesday and then host a doubleheader on Saturday.
Wednesday's game begins at 6:15 p.m., while the doubleheader is scheduled to start at 11 a.m.
For more information on American Legion Baseball, visit www.legion.org/baseball.