Cloquet catcher makes Team Minnesota
Cloquet High School senior Brandon Conklin is the only player from Northeastern Minnesota to be named to play in the Midwest Showcase all-star baseball tournament coming up next month.
Conklin, a catcher who plays for his father, Dennis, on the Cloquet American Legion team, impressed scouts while playing at the recent high school showcase event in the Twin Cities on June 25-26.
That earned Conklin an invitation to travel to West Joliet, Ill., from Aug. 1-3 to play as part of Team Minnesota, a 14-player aggregation that also includes Ben Humbert of International Falls as players from Northern Minnesota taking part.
“Each team gets 10 position players and four true pitchers,” Conklin said. “I catch but I also pitch so I might get to do both.”
Scouts have told both the Conklins that Brandon’s future probably lies behind the plate, a situation that suits the player just fine.
“I like being able to call the game and see it all from back there,” Brandon said. “For me, that’s more fun.”
Conklin has had a solid season both for the school team and for the Legion nine. In school ball, Conklin hit .450 in 21 games and drove in 20 runs while compiling an on-base percentage of .566. This summer, he has raised his average to .478 while leading the team in RBIs with six extra-base hits in 22 at-bats.
“He’s got some pop in that bat,” Dennis Conklin said of his son. “But anything he has to do to help his team win, he’ll do.”
That includes compiling a rather amazing statistic. In the three years Conklin has played varsity and Legion ball, he has been hit by pitches an incredible 128 times.
“He’s a little nuts,” Dennis said with a laugh. “You have to be, to ‘wear it’ that much.”
But it’s true. Conklin was conked 52 times as a freshman, 48 more as a sophomore and 28 times so far this spring and summer.
“The first time he played against Denfeld he was hit the first five times he came to the plate,” Dennis said. “It was amazing for a freshman to go out there and have that happen.”
“It’s a free base,” Brandon said. “I don’t mind it but it does seem like I’ve been hit more than that.”
By contrast, the all-time major league leader in that category, Hall-of-Famer Hughie “Ee-Yah” Jennings, was hit by pitches 287 times — in 18 years.
Brandon says his stance places him close to the plate and sometimes pitchers plunk him.
“But it’s legal and if they hit me, they hit me, and it’s only a baseball,” he said.
Brandon was selected as an alternate to last year’s Team Minnesota and says he has received interest from between 20 and 30 colleges already.
“This tournament is good for me because it will give me exposure to some bigger colleges,” he said. “My dream has always been to go to college on a scholarship and play baseball.”
Being from Northern Minnesota hasn’t helped the younger Conklin, according to his father.
“I’ve coached for a long time and I love these kids,” Dennis said, “but the talent just isn’t there compared to the Twin Cities teams. That’s why we get our heads handed to us at State. We go down there, they have seven or eight kids in their bullpens and we have three or four kids who can pitch.”
But getting a chance to play against stars from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia and New Jersey in the tournament will give Brandon great exposure.
“He has heard from UMD, Scholastica, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha and schools in Division I, II and III,” Dennis said. “This will be good for him.”
And it will be a good way for the younger Conklin to thank his father for all his help.
“I quit football and basketball to pursue baseball,” Brandon said. “My dad has been a huge help. I don’t know if I can even put it into words. He loves baseball a lot and he’s been incredible.”