UMD duo finds a home with the Duluth HuskiesUMD shortstop Tyler Erickson and Bulldogs teammate Anders Engberg aim to make a lasting impression as the Duluth Huskies begin their eighth season of Northwoods League baseball on Wednesday at Thunder Bay.
By: Jon Nowacki, Associated Press
Tyler Erickson simply tried to fit in with the Duluth Huskies during a two-week stint in 2008.
Last year the Minnesota Duluth shortstop played a couple of weeks with the Alexandria Beetles.
This year he is back with the Huskies — and hoping to stay for a while.
Erickson and Bulldogs teammate Anders Engberg want to make a lasting impression as the Huskies begin their eighth season of Northwoods League baseball on Wednesday at Thunder Bay.
Engberg is signed for the season, while Erickson has a temporary contract, meaning he has about a month with the team unless a spot opens up.
“I’ve thought about making a quick impression, but if I put that pressure on myself, I don’t think I’ll be able to succeed,” Erickson said. “The first year was just nerves. Last year I felt the pressure. I’ve just got to relax and go out there and play. Any experience helps, and I know I can’t get intimidated by any of the names from the big schools. I just have to be patient and things will work out.”
The wood bat Northwoods League is an adjustment for all players, but it is even more of a challenge for those who hail from smaller schools such as Erickson and Engberg.
The Huskies were interested in Engberg last year, but the pitcher/first baseman had prior commitments.
“Coming into [Monday’s practice] I didn’t really know what to expect. In batting practice the balls didn’t go quite as far as I’m used to,” Engberg said, laughing. “A lot of the players on the team are from big schools like Miami. It was a little nervewracking, but the guys are pretty cool. For me and Erickson, it will just be fun to see how we play at this next level. I’m looking forward to seeing what the best of the best can be like.”
Having local players is nothing new for the Huskies, as previous teams have included athletes from UMD, St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior. But in a league dominated by NCAA Division I talent, it is still rare. The players have to be standouts, and both Erickson and Engberg fit that bill. Their college coach, Bob Rients, is a former Northwoods League coach and wouldn’t have recommended them if he didn’t think they could compete.
Erickson and Engberg led a UMD resurgence this spring as the Bulldogs went 36-20 and just missed the NCAA playoffs.
Erickson, a junior from Alexandria, Minn., batted a team-best .422, with 45 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
Engberg, a sophomore from Burnsville, Minn., batted .307 with five home runs and 49 RBIs. On the mound, he was 6-2 with a 4.78 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 49 innings. His fastball is in the mid-80s.
"Some of these pitchers we get couldn’t put one foot in front of the other from a coordination standpoint, but can really throw the ball," Huskies general manager Craig Smith said. "They come from baseball schools and are refined, while we’ve got true athletes up here. They just need experience. Tyler and Anders are good examples of that."
Smith said players who fit a dual role like Engberg are at a premium this season as the Northwoods League implements new pitching rules. Once a player hits 100 pitches, he has to be taken out of the game after that inning and have six complete days of rest.
Engberg doesn’t care where he plays. He’s just excited about the opportunity to play in the league and with his teammate.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun playing alongside with Erickson," Engberg said. "He plays with a lot of energy and really loves the game. It’s infectious. I can’t wait."
THE NEW AND OLD
The Huskies have a new coaching staff in manager Daniel Hersey of Central Florida Community College and pitching coach Mark O’Sullivan of Springfield College. Hersey was with the team in 2006.
Duluth returns infielders Jeff Reynolds, Cody Asche and Pete Cappetta, outfielder Scott Sommerfeld, and pitchers Chris Jensen and Drew Benes, the son of former Major League Baseball All-Star Andy Benes.
Among the new players to watch are Zeke DeVoss and Steven Ewing of Miami, Mark Threlkeld of Louisiana Tech and Andrew Karmeris of North Florida.