Prep Baseball Preview: No field, no worries for EskomosAs a result of last year’s epic June flood and the upcoming construction for the school’s new outdoor athletic facilities off Canosia Road, the Eskomos will not have a home baseball field this spring. Instead, they will play all games on the road.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
As a result of last year’s epic June flood and the upcoming construction for the school’s new outdoor athletic facilities off Canosia Road, the Eskomos will not have a home baseball field this spring. Instead, they will play all games on the road.
“We called ourselves the road warriors tonight — I liked it,” said catcher Ryan Holte after Tuesday’s late practice. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a team going through something like this. We just have to embrace it and show we can go play anywhere.”
Last June’s record-breaking flood sent the Midway River cresting over the outfield fence — which collapsed in right field —washing out the pitcher’s mound, shifting the dugouts and ruining tons of equipment and maintenance machinery.
Esko Coach Ben Haugen went to the field immediately after the flood. He said the damage costs were devastating and the ballpark was unplayable during part of the summer.
Haugen said they received $31,000 in grants — including $20,000 combined from the Minnesota Twins and first baseman Justin Morneau and his wife, Krista — to aid field rebuilding efforts in the future. Additional post-flood work allowed Esko players to fix up the park temporarily last fall, but with the upcoming athletic facilities construction, much of the area is off limits, sending the Eskomos on a bus all year.
“Maybe on the bus, we’ll get some team chemistry going,” said Holte about the 20 games on their schedule. “We’re still playing baseball. It’s still the same dimensions.”
Holte and fellow seniors Jared Mattson, Nate Linder, Tyler Miller and junior John Carr all return from last season’s .500 squad.
“It’s going to be a weird season,” Haugen admitted about their ultra-rare field circumstance. “But these guys have handled it so well — I don’t think I’ve heard a word about it at practice yet. Like all boys across northern Minnesota, I think they just want to get outside and play some baseball.”
Cloquet has been back at baseball for almost a month now, practicing indoors every day at the high school. Coach Rick Norrgard enters his second season with the Lumberjacks, noting his team is much younger than last year’s 18-win club.
“We’re very young, but that’s not always a bad thing,” said Norrgard following Tuesday evening’s practice. “We look pretty good inside, but it’s a lot different taking ground balls outside off of the grass, rather than off the gym floor.”
Norrgard had praise for his lone pair of seniors, Eric Peterson and Kaleb Kadelbach, each of whom are returning infielders with multiple years of experience. Sophomore standout Brandon Conklin is the only other varsity player back in a program of 29 total players, according to Norrgard.
“We have some pretty good young talent and expect to be competitive,” Norrgard continued. “Right now, though, everyone here just wants to get out and play some games.”
Wrenshall will embark in more significant games than most, as the small school returns to varsity baseball this season for the first time in the community’s recent memory.
The Wrens, which play all of their home games at Chub Lake Park in Carlton, have competed in junior varsity the past two years under Coach Doug Frank, who is also a teacher.
Frank, whose sons Mitch and Andrew both play, said the team is a committed bunch. Of the 16 players, Frank highlighted several seniors, including Mitch Frank, Jack Dolter, Dominic Pavlich and Pat Gustafson.
“It’s a really good group of kids,” Frank said Tuesday. “They’re excited, anxious and maybe a little nervous.”
“It’s pretty cool we get to play with our classmates again,” said Gustafson, a first baseman, who played Little League in Wrenshall growing up. “I don’t think we’ll be disappointed if we have bad season — we’re just glad to have it back.”
Editor’s note: Look for more baseball previews in next week’s Pine Journal.