Carlton Daze tourney has it all: dirt, drama and Northwoods beautyThere’s Ryan Schmidt behind the plate, umpiring a ballgame. There he is at the concessions, being a good ambassador to a group of out-of-towners. There he is again, filling out the master tournament bracket.
By: Brady Slater, Pine Journal
CARLTON – There’s Ryan Schmidt behind the plate, umpiring a ballgame. There he is at the concessions, being a good ambassador to a group of out-of-towners. There he is again, filling out the master tournament bracket, deciphering what all the scores mean so he can answer the “Who plays which team now?” on the lips of onlookers everywhere you look.
“This is kind of my baby,” said Schmidt when all was said and done, when the team from northwest Wisconsin’s Four Corners strode out of Chub Lake Park on Sunday with the Carlton Daze Minor League Baseball Tournament championship. “The first year we had three teams. It’s kind of grown.”
Boy, howdy. The 13-year-old tournament (for 9- to 10-year-olds) peaked with 13 teams from across the Northland’s birch wood boroughs, but 12 played through the near constant rain during the weekend.
“It was miserable, wasn’t it?” said Schmidt, whose smiling face everywhere you turned served for sunshine through most of the weekend. “But the sun came out for the championship and third-place games. I think people always make up their minds to have a good time.”
Chub Lake Park, if you have not been there for baseball, is a romantic getaway. A red barn overlooks its three youth ball fields, and where there is not manicured lawn, there is rough-style grass blowing in the wind <\_> forest leaves rattling yonder the outfield fences. The lake is over your shoulder. Turn like a retreating outfielder and you could sprint straight to the beach. In some ways, it is as good as it gets.
“It’s fun to have Duluth teams come in and praise you for your facility,” said Schmidt, whose many hats include teacher, athletic director, varsity baseball coach, president of the Carlton little league. Certainly, groundskeeper, too.
After the last field rake of the weekend, the “centre court” field was set for the championship. Duluth’s Eastern, a three-time champ of the tournament, faced off against Four Corners, the reigning champion. In a weekend fraught with fair-or-foul, will-they-or-won’t-they tension, Eastern had FC down 4-0, seemingly in complete control behind an arsenal of hurlers who pounded the strike zone as efficiently as you can imagine among little leaguers. Then …
“They came unglued,” said Schmidt, who shares a surname with history’s greatest third baseman and whose love for the game likely rivals that of the passionate Mike Schmidt. “Four Corners scored six in the bottom of the fifth, and that’s how it ended. They’d made some errors to get down 4-0 <\_> not getting tag ups and things that were uncharacteristic mistakes for them. They’re always a solid bunch; they travel all over the place to play.”
Wheeling away from the baseball grounds, it’s a good feeling. Post-festive. Like leaving behind a mini-baseball Woodstock with families, teammates, even rivals tailgating, rising-and-falling together. Even in the slop.
“It’s amazing how many people we squeeze in,” Schmidt said. “I wish we could do something to keep track of the numbers.”
Sadly, Schmidt can only do so much. The umpire’s clicker in his pocket counts to 4 balls, 3 strikes, 3 outs.