Kevin Showe was sitting in Wilde Lake baseball coach Don Storr's classroom in December when he received an invitation to join an American Legion baseball team this summer he knew little about: Laurel Post 60.

Showe, a recent graduate who will play for Greensboro (N.C.) College next season, said he needed to play on a competitive summer league team to prepare him for the college level. Showe had played for the Howard County Raiders in the Baltimore-Metro League the previous five summers.

"I wanted to play against the best players I could this summer, so that was the reason why I didn't play in the Baltimore-Metro League again," Showe said. "I needed to play against teams whose players are going to be playing in college or have already played college baseball for a year, and playing for Laurel seemed like a good fit."

Though Showe, an All-County outfielder and pitcher who hit .444 and drove in 19 runs this past spring, had the skills that Laurel Post 60 Coach Stan Merson coveted, he also had another necessary attribute to play on Merson's squad: He is a resident of Howard County.

What separates American Legion, the nation's oldest and largest teenage baseball program with 5,400 teams across the country, from other summer baseball leagues, is how its teams are selected. Each American Legion team is assigned a specific area -- either several school districts or portions of one or more counties -- from which to draw players.

Laurel Post 60, the county's only American Legion team, is limited to selecting players who reside in either Howard or portions of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, and has a roster in which 16 of its 17 players live in Howard. But such residential restrictions do not apply to the rest of the county's travel teams, including the Columbia Reds, an independent squad, and the Chesapeake Clippers, members of the Baltimore-Metro League, both of which are permitted to get the top players they can, regardless of where they live.

"A big part of American Legion is having each community support their team because the kids are from that area," said Robert Ray, the American Legion chairman for Maryland. "Montgomery County has seven American Legion teams, so Laurel Post [60] can't choose any players from Montgomery County, and since Mount Airy has an American Legion team, [Mount Airy] gets the players from Carroll County. We give each team a district that's theirs, and the bigger the county, the more American Legion teams there are."

"I like it because we get to play with other guys in the county who we've been playing against for two or three years," said Laurel Post 60 pitcher and shortstop Tim Lima, a recent graduate from Wilde Lake who will play next season for the Community College of Baltimore County at Catonsville.

Two of American Legion's biggest draws for players between the ages of 15 and 19 are its 79-year history and tradition. The winner of the American Legion World Series -- held Aug. 20-24 in Corvallis, Ore. -- is honored at Major League Baseball's World Series. As last year's champion, Rochester (Minn.), was given the Commissioner's Award by Major League Baseball Vice President Sandy Alderson at Yankee Stadium.

The teenager named American Legion player of the year is given a plaque at the annual induction ceremony at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and approximately 55 percent of major league players had competed in American Legion, according to the American Legion Baseball Web site.

"Knowing how big American Legion is definitely motivates you to play hard because a lot of the players who have played American Legion have gone on to bigger things," said pitcher and outfielder Derrick Nason, a rising senior at Reservoir. "American Legion has some of the best players and teams in the country."

Laurel Post 60, which entered Tuesday's game against Rockville Post 86 with a record of 13-16, is trying to establish itself locally.

After Laurel Post 60 folded in 1998 because of scheduling and travel problems, it came back last summer and was placed in the eight-team Montgomery County League -- one of the most competitive in the state.

Laurel Post 60 struggled last year. It started 0-12 and finished last in a league that produced state champion Gaithersburg Post 295, which is currently atop the league standings.

Laurel Post 60's goal is modest: qualify for the league tournament this coming Monday by finishing in at least fourth place during the regular season. The team, which has lost four of five games after a 9-7 loss to Wheaton Post 268 this past Monday, could accomplish that goal, but it will not be easy. Laurel Post 60 must win its final four games and have Rockville Post 86, Bethesda Post 105 and Damascus Post 171 falter considerably the final week of the season.

"You can't even compare last year's team to this year's team because we're so much better," Nason said. "Last year, we weren't really that good, but this year we've proven we can play with the best teams, and our record could be a lot better because we've lost a lot of close games by one or two runs."

Even if Laurel Post 60 fails to make the playoffs, a strong showing could attract more of the county's top players, who currently play for Howard's other travel teams, to join Laurel Post 60 next summer.

"Right now, the Columbia Reds are the premier team in the county," Merson said. "The Reds have worked hard and established themselves as the top team, and they have a lot of great players. But most of our players will be able to stay with this team for the next couple of years, and we're going to get better."

Chip Hiden dives safely back to first for Laurel Post 60, which is the only American Legion team in the county and has 16 of 17 players who reside in Howard.Post 60's Kevin Showe, right, said he wanted to play American Legion ball in part to get ready for college competition.Laurel Post 60's Matt Costa tries to beat the throw to Post 41's Nate Johnson in Friday's game. Post 60's goal is to qualify for the league tournament.