MN high school baseball adopts pitch count

The pitch count is making its first official appearance in the Minnesota high school baseball season this spring. New rules have officially gone into effect that will limit the number of pitches high schoolers can throw during a given time period.

Of course, the goal is to protect the health of young arms. The total amount of pitches thrown in what is now a tiered system will dictate how much subsequent time they aren’t allowed to take the mound again. The new system also means a whole lot more paperwork for head coaches and a system of punishments if the new system is not followed.

Pitch count

Spring Grove baseball coach Chris Strinmoen, pictured here, is one of many high school baseball coaches that have to contend with all-new pitch count rules in effect this season, designed to help pitchers keep their arms healthier. (Photo from Bluff Country News Group)

“It started as a nationwide push to create pitch count policies,” said Spring Grove baseball coach Chris Strinmoen, “to protect the arms of all the youth. The Minnesota State High School League has adopted a policy that’s similar to other states.”

He said it’s a tiered system. The daily maximum a pitcher can throw is 105 pitches (which would then mean three days’ rest). For 30 pitches or less, kids are eligible to pitch again the next day. However, they can’t pitch more than two days in a row, so if a pitcher throws two days in a row, they sit the next day. Any time a pitcher gets above that 30-pitch total, then he’ll be looking at mandatory days off.

The next tier is 31-50 pitches, which require one day of rest. 51-75 pitches mean two days of rest from pitching. 76-105 pitches require three days off from pitching. If a pitcher does hit that 105-pitch count and they’re in the middle of pitching to a batter, they can finish pitching to that hitter. There’s a similar list in place for JV baseball but the pitch count limits are smaller in number.

“The days off are measured in calendar days,” he said, “and not the next 24 hours after a start. It’s not a new concept for coaches to keep track of pitch counts. Any good coach will be doing that to avoid injuries to his staff. The new system requires that someone be in the dugout with the sole task of keeping track of their pitchers as well as the other teams, just to make sure the other squad isn’t bending the rules.”

Coaches are required to enter pitch counts into the high school league website within 24 hours after the end of each game.

 

Yellowjackets baseball wants more consistency

It’s been more of an up-and-down season than Rochester Community and Technical College Yellowjackets baseball coach Steve Hucke would like. The team is 12-12 on the season, including a trip down south to play against some very good competition.

The early season strength of the Yellowjackets has been pitching. The batting order is still looking for a little more consistency, but Hucke said they’ve got the talent to hit the ball well. They’ve also been bitten by the injury bug.

Yellowjackets baseball

RCTC baseball coach Steve Hucke says he’s looking for more consistency from the Yellowjackets, who are 12-12 on the season going into their next action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader at 2 and 4:00. (article from wn.news.com)

“Our record says we’re .500 and that’s kind of how we’ve been playing,” Hucke said. “We’ll come out one day and play really tough and look really good. For some reason, we’ll come back and I don’t know if we’re satisfied with that or what. I’m happy with the wins but I’m not satisfied with being .500 because I think we’re a better team than that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team had a  big question mark coming into the season, which was pitching. The team had to replace some good arms from last season but they’ve had some good kids step up and fill some of those roles. He says the unfortunate thing is the batters can’t seem to generate consistent run support.

 

 

“Our relief pitchers have come in and they understand their role that they’re supposed to fill when they enter the game,” Hucke said. “It’s been fun to see them come in and hold leads or get saves, and to pitch well enough for us to have a chance to come back and get a win.”

The first bullpen breakdown of the season didn’t happen until last Sunday when a normally reliable reliever came in, left a pitch up, and gave up three runs to Dakota County Technical College in the seventh inning. However, the Jackets did come back and win the game 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning on a walk-off base hit.

As he looks up and down the batting lineup, Hucke feels the team has a lot of potential to do some damage at the plate. The biggest challenge right now is the Yellowjackets baseball team is struggling with injuries.

 

 

“We’ve got the sticks to do it,” Hucke said, “we just need our approach at the plate to be a little more consistent and in tune with what we’re trying to do. We’re getting there.”

The team is getting much better defensively after what Hucke called a very rocky start to the season. He said the team likely has more errors to start a season than they’ve had in the last few years. A lot of it may have to do with spending most of their time inside the bubble over the football field working out to suddenly finding themselves outside in the middle of competition, switching from AstroTurf to natural grass.

“You get used to attacking the ball a little bit differently now that you’re on grass versus staying back and waiting for it to get to you on turf,” Hucke said. “We’re making some great plays in the outfield. Our outfielders have been phenomenal and we’re getting there around the infield so I think we’ll be okay.”

The team is coming off a Sunday afternoon split against Dakota County Technical College, dropping the first game 4-0 before coming back in dramatic fashion in the second game, winning 4-3. Hucke said the conference schedule is going to be as competitive as ever this spring.

“Our conference is pretty competitive and very talented,” he said. “We’ve also played one of our toughest non-conference schedules in recent years. We played a lot of tough teams on our spring trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, including a lot of Division 1 and Division 2 teams (scholarship programs). We came out of there at .500 against good teams so I can’t complain too much about that.”

Hucke said the trips down south give the team a chance to get to know each other. It’s important to find out who gets along with who and the team gets to find out about each other.

“Now, they’re forced to be together every day on a bus, in the condominiums where we stay, and out on the diamond,” Hucke said. “They’ll find out what the team is made of after a trip like that.”

The Yellowjackets baseball team is back in action on Thursday, April 13, with a home doubleheader against the St. Mary’s JV squad at 2 and 4:00. They’ll hit the road for a Friday conference doubleheader at St. Cloud Tech with games scheduled for 1 and 3:00.

 

Dairy Night at Mayo Field with the Honkers

Milking cows in the middle of a baseball game?  As a farm boy and lifelong baseball fan, there was no way in the world I was going to pass that up.

Dairy night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota

Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, was home to Dairy Night at the Ballpark, featuring the 22nd annual cow milking contest to help promote agriculture. (photo by Chad Smith)

The Rochester Honkers baseball team was home to the St. Cloud Rox in Northwoods League baseball on Friday night, July 8.  The night’s sponsor included the Olmsted County American Dairy Association, with help from the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  It was Dairy Night at the ballpark with an unusual way to promote agriculture.

The highlight of the night was a cow milking contest that took place at the end of the first inning.  And this wasn’t a new idea, either.  For over 20 years, the Honkers have been hosting an annual milking contest.  This year’s edition featured coaches from both teams in a one-minute, old-fashioned milking contest.  There wasn’t a milking machine to be found for miles.  This one was done by hand.

Dairy Night at the Ballpark In Rochester, Minnesota, sponsored by the Olmsted County ADA

St Cloud Rox Assistant Baseball Coach Phil Imholte is ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark main event, a cow milking contest intended to help promote agriculture at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (Photo by Chad Smith)

Honkers Manager Trevor Hairgrove was the Rochester entrant and Rox Assistant Coach Phil Imholte was a good sport by jumping into the contest for St. Cloud.  Hairgrove was the eventual contest winner in spite of the fact that his cow was much more agitated and jumpy than Imholte’s.

“It was the 22nd annual Cow Milking Contest,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau Southeast Area Program Director Katie Brenny.  “It was put on by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association and we were glad to join them and help promote agriculture.”

The cows were on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota.  June was officially Dairy Month across the country, but they wanted to continue to promote agriculture with the Rochester Honkers here in early July.

A dairy cow is jumpy while getting ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark event in Rochester, Minnesota.

A dairy cow on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota, isn’t excited about being in the Dairy Night at the Ballpark milking contest on Friday night, July 8, at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (photo by Chad Smith)

“It’s important to do this because consumers have questions,” Brenny said.  “They want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and we hope they also want to know the people who are producing their food, getting up early in the morning to do the chores and drive the tractor.”

If agriculture doesn’t promote itself, she said consumers with questions typically get their information from non-factual sources .  Farmers want to tell their stories, similar to the way a teacher wants to tell others what they teach or doctors want to talk about what they do.

“There’s always work to do to tell our story,” she said.  “Agriculture changes almost every day, and if we’re not sharing the change, no one will know what we’re doing.  For instance, 97 percent of our farms are family owned and we love to share that message with others.  Farmers are more than willing to answer any questions about what they do.”

Heading home after Dairy Night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota.

Heading home to the dairy farm after the Cow Milking Contest at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday night for Dairy Night at the Ballpark, sponsored by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association (Photo by Chad Smith

Katie is the Southeast Area Program Director for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  She spends a lot of time keeping things organized for Farm Bureau members in this part of the state.

“I work with all 11 counties down here in the southeast,” Brenny said, “doing anything from working with our elected officials on Ag policy to consumer events such as tonight, partnering with Ag commodity groups, county fairs, Ag in the Classroom, and more.  We were just at the Rochester Farmer’s Market last weekend and doing all kinds of events to promote the voice of agriculture.”

Brenny and some volunteers spent some time Thursday at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.  Some of the pictures can be found here.

In addition to the dairy contest, there was some pretty good baseball too as you’ll see in a few highlights I’ve put together here.

RCTC baseball road trip successful

The Rochester Community and Technical College baseball team is already 11 games into the season after a spring trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Yellowjackets won four of the games down south and played well in others.

As they get set to start the northern portion of their schedule, Jackets head coach Steve Hucke said they played some good baseball in South Carolina. The trip featured games against upper division junior college teams.

RCTC baseball

Rochester Community and Technical College baseball coach Steve Hucke (photo from rctc.edu)

“We beat some good teams,” Hucke said. “We played primarily against junior college Division Two and Division One scholarship teams while we were down there. We beat a very good Cumberland team that usually battles for a shot to get to the national tournament every year.”

The Jackets would have liked to pick up a few more wins on the trip, but Hucke said the benefits of playing against top teams down south would carry through the rest of the season.

“The way we look at it is we want to play a tough schedule to get us prepared for the season up here,” Hucke said. “You learn a lot about your kids and the team, and the players even learn something about themselves too. It’s a win-win no matter what your record is down south.”

Some of the things he picked up down south include the potential for success at the plate. It also includes a team mentality that he’s happy to see.

“We have some good hitters,” said Hucke, “and we also have some depth. We do have to work on some relief pitching, but that’s going to come.

“The thing I learned the most is that this group is very competitive,” Hucke added. “They’re going to battle, and they don’t give up. There were games that we were behind in, but we rallied to pick up wins. I saw some good leadership from our group of sophomores.”

As Hucke filled out his batting order, he saw good production from top to bottom. The lineup is led by a returning All-American.

“We saw good production up and down the lineup,” Hucke said. “Dustin Nelson (C/OF from Mondovi, Wisconsin), a returning All-American from last year, had a good week down south. Damon Nuss (IF/P from Sumner, Iowa) hit the ball well, and so did Austin Baab (IF/P from Wabasha, MN.). Up and down the lineup, we were pretty consistent. If someone wasn’t hitting, someone else stepped up.”

As a two-year junior college program, sophomore leadership is important. He said nowhere is that leadership more apparent than on the pitcher’s mound.

“We’re strong in starting pitching,” Hucke said. “Depth isn’t the problem in our relief staff as we’ve got numbers. The challenge on the trip was having the confidence to go in there and shut somebody down to maintain what we have going.”

RCTC baseball

The RCTC baseball team opens the northern part of it’s spring schedule this week at Iowa Lakes Community College (Photo from rctcbaseball.org)

Defensively, the Yellowjackets made some errors early in the trip down south that may have cost them a game or two. By the end of the week, he said things had cleared up to the point that he’s not worried about their defense.

There are several players from southeast Minnesota who will get playing time this spring. They include:

 

Zachary Bakko of Northfield is a sophomore outfielder.

 

Arron Hohensee of Lewiston is a freshman outfielder.

 

Michael Sigrist of Byron is a freshman outfielder and pitcher. (Hucke said he’s not sure how much playing time Sigrist will receive as he’s battling a shoulder injury.)

 

 

Rochester Honkers Add Nevada Wolfpack Outfielder to Roster

The Rochester Honkers Baseball Club announced today the signing of 6-foot-3, 195-pound outfielder and first baseman Cole Krzmarzick (Kra-mar-Chick) from the University of Nevada for the 2015 season.

Krzmarzick, a native of Las Vegas, Nev. enters his freshman season as a member of the Wolfpack.  In 2014 he graduated from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev. and committed to play baseball for Nevada the summer before his senior season. Krzmarzick also was recruited by BYU, San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and Utah.

Cole Krzmarzick is a University of Nevada baseball player who signed with the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League (Photo from sleepyeyeonline.com)

Cole Krzmarzick is a University of Nevada baseball player who signed with the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League (Photo from sleepyeyeonline.com)

In his senior season at Bishop Gorman, he batted a team-best .590 with 46 hits, 58 runs scored, and 41 RBIs in 78 at bats. His 58 runs scored led the state of Nevada.

In his senior season at Bishop Gorman, he batted a team-best .590 with 46 hits, 58 runs scored, and 41 RBIs in 78 at bats. His 58 runs scored led the state of Nevada. Krzmarzick was selected as an All-Sunset Region player, a member of the  ABCA/Rawlings High School All-America Team, and was among the top two in most offensive categories his final high school season.

The Rochester Honkers 22nd season begins on May 26th when the Mankato MoonDogs bark into Mayo Field for a 7:05pm first pitch.  Season Tickets,Bonus Books, Suites and Patios are now available. Call the Rochester Honkers office at 507-289-1170 for more information.  The Honkers are also looking for host families for the 2015 season and ask all interested parties to call the business office for more information.

The Rochester Honkers play summer league baseball in the Northwoods League (photo from rcvb.org)

The Rochester Honkers play summer league baseball in the Northwoods League (photo from rcvb.org)

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The Rochester Honkers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 22nd season of summer collegiate baseball in 2015, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 120 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (BOS) and Ben Zobrist (OAK). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League Website.  For more information, visit www.rochesterhonkers.com

The day Sleepy Eye met Babe Ruth in 1922

Major League Baseball is getting into the stretch run of its 2014 season.   We love our baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet, as the old song goes. The American pastime is featured in many of the countries biggest cities, and occasionally, some of our smaller cities and towns too.

All the way back in 1922, one of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars showed up in one of America’s smallest cities. A fellow by the name of George Herman Ruth, affectionately known as Babe, made an appearance in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, an event they still talk about today.

Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel pose for a picture before a barnstorming game in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, in 1922 (Photo courtesy of the Brown County Historical Society)

Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel pose for a picture before a barnstorming game in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, in 1922 (Photo courtesy of the Brown County Historical Society)

Life was a lot different for the biggest Major League Baseball stars back then. There were no multi-million dollar salaries, and money was only just beginning to flow into baseball, as it was the only major pro sports league of its time.

Babe Ruth was one of the reasons money had begun to flow into Major League Baseball. In March of 1922, he signed a three-year contract with the New York Yankees for 52,000 dollars. His reason for signing that contract? “He wanted to make a grand a week,” said Randy Krzmarzik, a Sleepy Eye resident who’s written a couple in-depth articles on the Babe’s visit to the area.

Ruth, like many major leaguers of hid time, would conduct what he called “barnstorming” trips. “Up to that point, he was making more money on the trips than he was in baseball,” said Krzmarzik.   “He continued to barnstorm, even after signing the contract, because it was so lucrative,” said Krzmarzik. “Plus, I think he was someone who really enjoyed getting out, and the idea of sitting around doing nothing during the offseason, when he could be out making money, meeting people, and hitting home runs, was too good to pass up.”

No one is sure how the tiny town of Sleepy Eye got on the same barnstorming schedule as bigger towns like Denver, Kansas City, and Omaha. “It’s always been a little bit of a mystery,” said Krzmarzik. “I’ve never really found something that said this is the specific reason.“ There seem to have been a couple different theories floating around since then.

One theory involved the Knights of Columbus. Krzmarzik said, “One rumor is that some of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus got involved in attracting Ruth to Sleepy Eye.” Ruth was a Catholic, and was said to be fond of the local KC chapters that honored him in New York.

The Herald-Dispatch newspaper at that time was quick to credit the local business community. The paper was quick to praise the “alertness of the Sleepy Eye businessmen” for securing the visit of the stars.

In addition to the Babe, the barnstorming tour included his teammate, Bob Meusel. They left for the tour on October 11, the day after that year’s World Series finished up.

The stop in Sleepy Eye was initially intended to be a for-profit venture. Krzmarzik said, “The stars were to receive the first 2,000 dollars of the gate receipts, less a war tax.” Anything after that was to go to the event promoters for profit.

Randy Krzmarzick of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, has written articles on Babe Ruth’s visit to Sleepy Eye back in 1922 (Photo courtesy of SleepyEyeOnline.com)

Randy Krzmarzick of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, has written articles on Babe Ruth’s visit to Sleepy Eye back in 1922 (Photo courtesy of SleepyEyeOnline.com)

The promoters were hoping for a big turnout, and installed temporary seating all the way down the foul lines. They were hoping for a crowd of up to 10,000, or at least a large turnout if the October weather would cooperate. It did not.

The big day was set for Monday, October 16. As the sun began to rise, temperatures were sitting at a low of 27 degrees, with a bitter Northwest wind blowing, and the first snow flurries of the year riding the air currents.

The Brown County Journal newspaper said, “There was no guarantee of a minimum payment to the stars, so Babe and Bob gambled against the weather conditions, popularity, etc., and lost at Sleepy Eye.” Krzmarzik said, “It may not have been a money-making event, but it still was a memorable day for those who braved the weather.”

About 500 people showed up at the event, some coming from as far away as the Twin Cities and Marshall.

After an all-night train ride from Omaha, the stars were greeted by a very chilly band, and presented a key to the city by then Sleepy Eye Mayor Fialka.

After all the festivities wrapped up it was time to play baseball with the Yankee stars. Babe and Bob played on different teams, with some of the best players around southern Minnesota were enlisted to fill out the teams. Krzmarzik said, “Local Brown County players included Wally Cady of Comfrey, Art Mach and Roy Black from Springfield, Bill Born Roy Borchert of New Ulm, and Noel Hoffmann and Len Current of Sleepy Eye.”

Ruth showed his baseball versatility, playing right field, then second base, and lastly, pitched the ninth inning. His forte, as baseball fans know, was hitting. He hit two long home runs off Sleepy Eye’s town team pitcher Sylvester “Sox” Schueller. The New Ulm Review said the home runs were, “Wicked liners and not rising more than 50 feet off the ground.”

Schueller was quoted years later as saying, “He hit those balls so hard, they still ain’t found them yet!” Krzmarzik said someone claimed to have found one of the baseballs after the game. “There was somebody that claimed to have a ball Babe hit, but I don’t know if we can prove that,” said Krzmarzik. “Where the actual home runs ended up, I have no idea.

Meusel played left field for the other team and went hitless. Ruth’s team wound up winning the game by a 9 to 7 score.

After the game, Ruth and his entourage attended a banquet at Saint Mary’s High school auditorium, which is now the second floor of the elementary school. Then, they held a dance at the Standard Opera House, above where the palace is now. The Yankee stars then hopped on a train for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and another game the next day.

The visit to Sleepy Eye must have made an impression on the baseball legend. Krzmarzik said, “During an interview the next day, Ruth told a local reporter he couldn’t believe how many people came out to watch the game in Sleepy Eye because the weather was so cold and miserable.”

Here is a link to a very good story done by Fox Sports on the Babe’s visit to Sleepy Eye:

http://www.foxsports.com/north/video/remembering-babe-ruth-s-visit-sleepy-eye-minn-071014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rochester Honkers beat Eau Claire 7-1 in Northwoods League baseball

Over 1,500 baseball fans showed up to see the Rochester Honkers beat the Eau Claire Express by a 7-1 score in Northwoods League baseball on Friday night in Rochester.

Over 1,500 people begin filling up the seats at Mayo Field in Rochester, where the hometown Honkers beat Eau Claire 7-1 on Friday night in Northwoods Leage baseball (Photo by Chad Smith)

Over 1,500 people begin filling up the seats at Mayo Field in Rochester, where the hometown Honkers beat Eau Claire 7-1 on Friday night in Northwoods Leage baseball (Photo by Chad Smith)

The team managers meet the umpires to exchange lineups before the Honkers beat the Express 7-1 on Friday night at Mayo Field in Rochester (Photo by Chad Smith)

The team managers meet the umpires to exchange lineups before the Honkers beat the Express 7-1 on Friday night at Mayo Field in Rochester (Photo by Chad Smith)

After a scoreless first inning, the hometown Honkers erupted for five runs in the bottom of the second to open up an early lead.  Jeff Campbell drove in a run with a double to left field, and Alex Schultz came up with the biggest hit of the game, a bases loaded double to center field that drove in three.  Schultz, the Honkers centerfielder, went two for four on the night, upping his season average to .353, and scored a run as well. Right-hander Spencer Greer got the start on the mound for Rochester, pitching the first six innings without allowing a run.  Greer, a six-six hard thrower, allowed only three Express hits, striking out four, and walking one.  Greer got the win in his first start of the season, and Ryan Fritze went the last three innings, picking up his first save of the season

Righthander Spencer Greer threw six scoreless innings, helping the Rochester Honkers beat Eau Claire 7-1 on Friday night at Mayo Field (Photo by Chad Smith)

Righthander Spencer Greer threw six scoreless innings, helping the Rochester Honkers beat Eau Claire 7-1 on Friday night at Mayo Field (Photo by Chad Smith).

The only Eau Claire run came in the top of the seventh inning on a solo homerun by Express first baseman Tyler Hermann off of Fritze. Right-handed pitcher Andy Davis got the start for Eau Claire, and was roughed up in only two innings of work.  Davis gave up five runs, all earned, on only four hits. Many of the Rochester fans stuck around after the game for a postgame fireworks show at Mayo Field.

Rochester’s Alex Schultz awaits the first pitch to open Friday night’s game against Eau Claire in Northwoods League baseball.  Schultz went 2-4, with 3 rbi’s and a run scored, helping the Honkers beat the Express 7-1 on Friday night in Rochester (Photo by Chad Smith)

Rochester’s Alex Schultz awaits the first pitch to open Friday night’s game against Eau Claire in Northwoods League baseball. Schultz went 2-4, with 3 rbi’s and a run scored, helping the Honkers beat the Express 7-1 on Friday night in Rochester (Photo by Chad Smith)

Rochester Honkers mascot Slider entertains the crowd during a Rochester win over the Eau Claire Express 7-1 on Friday night in Northwoods League baseball (Photo by Chad Smith)

Rochester Honkers mascot Slider entertains the crowd during a Rochester win over the Eau Claire Express 7-1 on Friday night in Northwoods League baseball (Photo by Chad Smith)

Rochester Manager Matt Bowman, in his first year as bench boss for the team, spoke after the game about a solid 7-1 win by his squad:

Honker Highlights from Chad Smith on Vimeo.

Rochester Honkers readying for 21st baseball season

Tom Hanks once said, “There’s no crying in baseball!”  The quote came from the 1992 hit movie “A League Of Their Own.”  According to Dan Litzinger, the General Manager of the Rochester Honkers baseball team, there’s no offseason in baseball either.

The Rochester Honkers turn 21 this year (Photo courtesy of silver tree.com)

The Rochester Honkers turn 21 this year (Photo courtesy of silver tree.com)

 

The team roster is full.  The coaching staff is ready.  The Northwoods League schedule in set in stone.  The Honkers are putting the final front office preparations in place for the season opener on May 27, at Mayo Field in Rochester.

 

Finding players

 

“We could probably fill out four full teams by November 1, with all the applications that come in,” said Litzinger.  That’s a big change from when the team first formed back in 1994.

 

 

In addition to the applications process, Litzinger said the Honkers coaches double as a scouting staff.  “Our coaches are college coaches, so they’ve seen players, and they’re seeing players.  He said they have a good idea of which players they’re interested in.

A close play at third base (photo from rochestercvb.org)

A close play at third base (photo from rochestercvb.org)

 

“We have relationships with college coaches all over the country.  They know us, so they’re calling and saying hey, I’ve got these two or three guys I want to send up your way.  They want to know what our roster looks like and what needs we have,” said Litzinger.  “Coaches will tell us we’ve always taken care of them, so they want to take care of us.”

 

He said they do call up coaches across the country and inquire about players that might be good enough to be on the team’s roster.  Litzinger said it’s “a lot to weed through as we try to put the best team we can out on the field.”

 

The Northwoods League

 

According to the Northwoods League official website, the League formed back in 1994, and billed itself as a league of “all-star” teams of college players.  Litzinger described the purpose of the Northwoods League in his own words:

 

He said the league runs on major-league specifications.  “We use wooden bats.  Our umpires come from umpire schools, so they’re trying to make the big leagues as well, said Litzinger.  “Everything we do mimics the minor league experience, so that’s how we prepare some of these kids to make the jump”

The Northwoods League requires it’s teams to use wooden bats to mirror major league baseball games (photo by usatoday.com)

The Northwoods League requires it’s teams to use wooden bats to mirror major league baseball games (photo by usatoday.com)

 

Ten years ago, he said the players would face a challenge adjusting to wooden bats after years of playing with aluminum bats, but that’s not the case anymore.  “With the recent changes in aluminum bats, the adjustment comes quicker,” said Litzinger. “They’re trying to make aluminum bats act more like wooden bats, plus more and more kids coming out of junior colleges across the country play with wooden bats now.”

 

Litzinger said the biggest adjustment is getting used to each other:

 

 

2013 season was rough

 

“Trying,” was the word that Litzinger used to describe the 2013 season.  The Honkers finished the summer with a 28-42 record, 23 games out of first place in the North Division.

 

“It was one of our worst on-field performances ever.  We got hit by injuries.  We got hit by the Major League draft.  It happens to everybody, but last year was especially difficult,” said Litzinger.  “We just didn’t mesh right away.  I thought we looked good on paper, but, that’s paper.”

 

The Honkers had several players taken in the June Major League draft, going anywhere from rounds 25 to 40.  Litzinger said they aren’t getting much money at that point when they sign their first contract, but asks, “How do you tell a kid no?  How do you kill a kid’s dream?”

 

“You want some of your guys to get drafted, because that means you’re signing the right kind of players.  You just don’t know the mental aspect of who’s going to sign, and who isn’t,” said Litzinger.  “It’s tough to replace that kind of talent in June.”

 

2014 season approaching

 

The Northwoods League teams bring in top college talent from all over the country, and Litzinger said the quality of baseball is outstanding.  “It’s a Division 1 conference game every night, and it can get to be a grind.”

 

“Guys have to step up their level of competition,” said Litzinger.  “How do you get through 72 tough games in a summer?  There are going to be slumps, and players have to decide how they’re gonna get through it because that’s what they’ll need to do in pro ball.”

 

“Players can’t be out until two in the morning.  You have to get up and you have to do your work.  Players have to eat right, and they have to get the proper amount of sleep,” said Litzinger.

 

He said, “All they have to do is concentrate on baseball, work on their skills, and have a little fun too.”

Fans young and old can attend Honkers games (photo from circledrivedental.com)

Fans young and old can attend Honkers games (photo from circledrivedental.com)

 

The Honkers open the season May 27, with a home game at Mayo Field in Rochester against the Waterloo Bucks, North Division

champions from 2013.  First pitch will be at 7:05.  For more information on ticket packages, check out the website at http://northwoodsleague.com/rochester-honkers.