CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne American Legion Post 6 baseball team will add six more names to its hall of fame during a virtual ceremony tonight.
Bret Fanning, Patrick Farrell, Chris Lovas, Billy McHenry, Jake O’Donnell and Scott Payne all spent at least two summers playing on the Sixers’ varsity club together. Most of the group started playing together with the Cheyenne Raptors organization before they were teenagers.
To a man, the contingent is humble and deferential. They never thought of themselves as some of the all-time best players in the program’s storied history, and they know what they accomplished wouldn’t have been possible without those who donned the red jerseys before them.
“The span we cover was monumental for Post 6,” Fanning said. “There were hall-of-famers like Bryce (Nimmo), Julian (Tafoya III) and Brad (Barker III) who were on teams that set the foundation for this group.
“In the early 2000s, it started becoming something really special each year. I’m not saying it wasn’t special before that, but there was something magical that happened leading into our era that continues to this day. We were able to build on the foundation the guys before us laid.”
Farrell – who now works as an air traffic controller in Kansas City, Missouri – credits Cheyenne’s coaches for the program’s success.
“They gave us all the opportunities in the world to develop into the players we became, helping us go out and get scholarships and free educations,” said Farrell, who spent two seasons in the New York Mets’ minor league system. “I’m very thankful for the opportunities Post 6 gave me. It’s known all around the country now. Back then, we were barely on the map.”
Speed to spare
Fanning held a full-time job during the summers after his freshman and sophomore years at Cheyenne Central. His father, Dennis, talked him into focusing on baseball his last two years with Post 6.
“Those two seasons were a turning point for me,” said Fanning, who stole a program-record 91 bases as a senior. “That’s when I really broke out as a player. I really have thank my dad for suggesting I take a couple summers off just to focus on baseball.”
Fanning, an outfielder, batted .404 with 23 triples, 161 RBIs and 119 stolen bases during his three varsity seasons. He played NCAA Division I baseball, starting at the University of New Mexico before closing out his career at Northern Colorado.
He now is an auditing manager with the Wyoming Department of Audit, and recently started coaching with Post 6’s youth feeder program.
“I never realized how much fun I had when I was playing for Post 6,” Fanning said. “My junior year, we went to Minnesota and played in the Gopher Classic. We played in Coors Field twice.
“It was pretty special. The guys who are being inducted with me were and continue to be some of the best friends of my entire life.”
Fanning was a standout for a Post 6 team that placed second at the Northwest Regional tournament. Cheyenne dropped its opener to the Billings (Montana) Scarlets before battling back through the losers bracket. That run included overcoming an eight-run deficit against Bellevue, Washington.
“The competitions we had in the batting cages, on the bases and everywhere else fed into the inning where we came back and showed them what a Wyoming team could do,” Fanning said. “Everyone who’s going into the hall of fame made me better and played a part in that rally.
“I really feel that way, and I’m sure all those other guys would tell you the same.”
Farrell played second and third base during his first few seasons in the Post 6 program. He moved to catcher prior to his junior campaign.
“One practice, coach (Tagg) Lain said we needed someone else to play catcher, so I volunteered,” Farrell said. “My first year was pretty rough. I didn’t have the instincts as far as blocking and reaction.
“With the help of coach (Mark) Robért and Pat Courtney, I picked up little things here and there that helped me develop. It wasn’t until my freshman and sophomore year of college that it became a little more comfortable and fun.”
Farrell started his college career at Colby College in Colby, Kansas. He then transferred to NCAA Division I UNLV before wrapping up his career at Division II Regis University in Denver. He was taken in the 32nd round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft by the New York Mets.
He suffered a knee injury during his final year at Regis, and spent much of the summer rehabbing it before joining the Mets’ short-season affiliate. He spent 2011 with the Class A Savannah (Georgia) Sand Gnats.
“My playing time was kind of lacking, and the team didn’t seem that interested in developing me,” Farrell said. “I kind of had enough after my second season, and decided to hang it up. I was ready to get back to the real world.
“Looking back, I kind of wish I had ridden the opportunity out until the team cut me and it became a definite no.”
Although he turned into a draftable player, Farrell is surprised he is being honored for his Post 6 exploits.
“I had some tools at that age, but I don’t think I was a standout high school baseball player, by any means,” he said. “I was just a kid trying to find my way, having fun playing ball with my buddies.”
Fleet of foot
Lovas also never thought of himself as one of the best players in Post 6 history.
“I really thought my best chance of being part of the Post 6 baseball hall of fame was if the 2006 regional runner-up team got in,” said Lovas, who was an infielder. “I was pretty surprised when I got the text that I was going in individually.”
Lovas batted .390 and stole 76 bases during his senior season.
“Our team got a lot of attention for stealing bases that year,” Fanning said. “I set the record, but Chris also beat the previous record. That kind of went under the radar. We fed off each other in a positive way.”
Lovas played three seasons at Division I North Dakota State. The Bison underwent a coaching change after his freshman campaign. Lovas was the last player from the 2006 signing class remaining on the roster when he was cut from the team prior to his senior year.
“That was a blessing in disguise because school had gotten really tough,” said Lovas, who is now a partner at AVI Engineering. “Baseball in Fargo, North Dakota, is kind of an adventure. We played on the road a lot early in the season, and were snowblowing the field for our first home series every year.
“I would have needed a few extra semesters to finish my degree if I had kept playing ball.”
Lovas joins his brothers-in-law, Bryce and Brandon Nimmo, and father-in-law, Ron Nimmo, in the Post 6 hall of fame.
“The committee probably felt bad for me and threw me a bone so I could hold my head up during Christmas dinner,” Lovas joked. “I wasn’t one of the legendary guys. I told Kristen, my wife, I was getting inducted, and she seemed shocked, too. Being the sister to Brandon and Bryce Nimmo, she’s a little hard to impress.”
McHenry’s first love was football, and he briefly gave up baseball before O’Donnell talked him into returning to the diamond.
“He kept telling me I was making a mistake by not playing,” McHenry said. “Tagg (Lain) let me come to a few practices to see if I wanted to play. I made the team, and that ended up being the best decision of my life.
“(O’Donnell) deserves a lot of credit for convincing me to give baseball another chance.”
McHenry was a three-year varsity standout, and was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 50th round of the 2007 MLB draft. He spent two seasons at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, helping the Plainsmen win their first Region IX title in school history. He wrapped up his playing career at Division II Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State) in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“I can’t say enough about (Lain). We butted heads and weren’t always the best friends, but he prepared me how to play baseball at a very high level,” McHenry said. “When I showed up to college, I was already ahead of a lot of kids that were there.”
McHenry works for his family business, McHenry and Sons Concrete, and has returned to the Sixers as a varsity assistant.
“People like to throw the term ‘family’ around, but it’s genuine with Post 6,” McHenry said. “I made lifelong friends through Post 6. There are even guys I didn’t really hang out with off the field, but we’re still friends to this day.”
O’Donnell played on the left side of the infield until his sophomore year, when he also started playing catcher.
“I learned a lot from (Farrell) that year,” O’Donnell said. “It was nice having an older guy I could talk to and learn the position from.”
O’Donnell continued to play third base after adding catching to his repertoire. He also pitched and later played first base. The right-hander shares the record for single-season pitching wins (14). He was the most valuable player of the 2007 Wyoming Class AA state tournament.
“I fell into a groove and was pretty accurate that year,” O’Donnell said. “Bery (Tack) was always my catcher, and it seemed like I was throwing it right where he was set up every time. I had an all right curveball and a decent changeup, which really helped.”
O’Donnell played at Clarendon (Texas) College. He is now an operator at the Dyno Nobel plant west of Cheyenne.
Payne entered the Post 6 program as a 13-year-old and spent two years on its Prep team before moving up to the varsity squad as a freshman. The infielder and pitcher was part of four Class AA state title teams and two regional runner-up squads.
His time with Post 6 prepared him for a standout college career.
“When I got to college, I was surprised about situational and strategy things some guys didn’t know,” Payne said. “A lot of kids understand basics and swing mechanics, but they didn’t know the nuances of base running, down angle reads, proper double cuts, or how and when to properly play ‘no doubles’ defense.
“When I got to college, I felt like I had a distinct advantage over some of my teammates.”
Payne spent two seasons at Mesa (Arizona) Community College, where he set the single-season fielding percentage mark. He wrapped up his career at Regis University in Denver before spending three seasons as an assistant with Post 6.
Payne now helps run Catalyst Sports in Golden, Colorado. Catalyst offers year-round baseball training, summer baseball teams and fitness training.
“A big part of why I’m at Catalyst is because of Post 6,” Payne said. “We’re trying to create a similar type of organization and culture down here. Playing for Post 6 was such a unique thing.
“I have been all over the country with baseball, and Cheyenne should be really proud of that program.”