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Thunder baseball buses with friendly foes

As a former catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system, Cal Barr knows all about baseball bus trips.

That’s why the now-58-year-old Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College baseball coach didn’t pass on the opportunity to bus along with an opponent to play a game.

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In an effort to combat another spring season of whacky weather, Barr scheduled his Thunder to travel with league rival Hibbing to play their season opener in the Wisconsin Dells on March 30.

Winless FDLTCC lost that game 11-5 to the Cardinals — along with all 10 of their contests thus far — but won’t soon forget their newest travel partners and how neat it was.

“To be honest, it was weird at first,” said Thunder sophomore Andy Knight, of Barnum, noting a separated bus at the beginning became interspersed with orange and red colors by the end. “They’re our rivals, but we all realized we wanted to get out and play some baseball.”

Playing baseball has been tough for FDLTCC (0-10). Not only has the fourth-year program struggled on the scoreboard this spring, but just getting any games has been difficult to do. Practicing in the nearby Hilltop Park parking lot and twice on their home field of Braun Park — once for field work — if the Thunder doesn’t play in Cloquet in the upcoming days, it will be a second straight homeless season.

On top of that, some of the team’s 14 players are currently injured, while others have academic commitments.

Knight, for example, is in the United States Army Reserves and was unavailable for last weekend’s games.

Meanwhile, freshman teammate Pat Gustafson of Wrenshall is in law enforcement and can’t make Thursdays.

“It makes it busy,” said Gustafson Tuesday.

Barr, however, a minor leaguer from 1974-1976, classifies his group of players as dedicated ones he enjoys, despite having little depth and a lack of pitching experience.

“We’ll be playing six games in the next three days with a dozen players and by the end of year, everyone will have taken their turn on the mound,” Barr said. “And even though we’re not winning, we’re still having fun playing together.”

That would include the bus trip the team took with Hibbing, one for which Barr said the team split the financial costs.

“We’re all trying to find fields and find games,” Barr continued. “We have to work together to make this work.”

Gustafson, who as a high school sophomore and junior cross country runner rode along with opposing Carlton on road trips, said the days with Hibbing were enjoyable.

“It was kind of crammed,” Gustafson said honestly, “but by the end, we were all talking with each other quite a bit.”

Knight, who is playing his final year of baseball, agreed.

“We were all playing Pokémon on my Gameboys,” Knight admitted. “I’m sad it’s my last year — that’s just how the cards went — but having fun is the biggest thing.”

Thunder softball cancels season

The FDLTCC softball team will not be making any bus trips this spring, as the Thunder softball team has cancelled their season.

According to FDLTCC Athletic Director Keith Turner and Thunder softball Coach Laura Sylvester earlier this week, the season was cancelled due to inclement weather conditions, as well as athletes’ academic commitments, especially in such programs as law enforcement and nursing.

Sylvester, also the college’s volleyball and women’s basketball coach, noted Tuesday that it would not be fair for the athletes to use a year of eligibility on so few games.

Sylvester said the Thunder — which only played a few games last year and none at home — will continue to recruit for next season, one that Turner is already discussing.

“It’s been miserable,” Turner said of the last two spring seasons of weather. “At our AD meetings, we’ve been looking at playing half of the conference season in the fall.”