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Weller-less Bombers blast by Wrens

Mitchell Weller has played baseball, basketball and football throughout his entire high school career for Barnum.

And now, just weeks before the Bomber shortstop, forward and running back graduates, he's doing his best to add cheerleading to that list.

Due to a season-ending knee injury on the baseball diamond last month, Weller's prep career came to a halt, transforming the senior into the team's top supporter in the dugout. Last Thursday at home against Polar League neighbor Wrenshall, Weller wore his knee brace and cheered on his teammates in Barnum's 16-2, five-inning waxing of the Wrens.

"They're my guys, they've been there since day one — I can't just abandon ship," said Weller, who now attends all home games, but cannot travel on long road trips with the team. "I'm trying to make it to everything I can."

Weller injured his right knee April 28 in Grand Marais, when he grounded out to the Cook County second baseman without even leaving the batter's box. That's because Weller entirely tore the tissue surrounding his kneecap. In major pain, Weller rolled around in the dirt and the game paused so he could be helped off the field.

"My first thought was that I wanted to finish," Weller recalled, "but as the night went on, my knee just kept getting bigger and bigger. Right then, I knew I was done. It was a tough way to go out."

Weller initially thought his ACL was torn, but got the good news that it was just torn tissue. Still a tough pill to swallow, Weller has remained ultra-optimistic in being there for his team. He will undergo surgery later this month in Duluth, but until then, still wants to watch some more games.

Much like last Thursday when he was slow to get out of the dugout, but was still there with his joyful teammates to greet junior Hunter Lake and sophomore Colton Ziegler for their first-ever home runs. Lake, who cleared the centerfield fence, and Ziegler, taking his to right, hit their career-remembering smashes in the bottom of the first inning when Barnum scored all 16 of their runs and batted through its entire lineup twice.

"I was waiting right there at home," said Weller. "I remember my first home run — in Moose Lake. It's the best feeling in the world. It's a big deal.

"I just wanted to be there for both those guys when they touched the plate," Weller continued. "Being there to watch that was a lot of fun for me and I knew it was a lot of fun for them, too."

Barnum Coach Tony Bender said last week's win was just what their two-win team needed, as their last had been 27 days prior during their season-opener at Onamia. Although it's been difficult without their three-sport Weller, Bender added his positivity and dedication is a great addition on the bench.

"He's been a great leader in the dugout," said Bender. "His injury has been tough on our team, as it takes a middle-of-the-lineup batter out of our order and removed a very good and needed infielder and pitcher."

Still, others like Lake, Ziegler and junior Christopher Carlson — who tossed three innings and struck out eight against Wrens — have been stepping up. Despite their youth, the Bombers, which had 15 hits last week, are remaining confident.

Winless Wrenshall is young, as well. Yes, they sport nine seniors on their official roster, but many of them have little or no experience on the diamond. The program was resurrected by Coach Doug Frank five years ago, but after a couple years of junior varsity and now their third year of varsity, the program is still in its infancy.

"We have good athletes, they enjoy playing and are definitely trying hard, but it's been tough," Frank said. "A lot of them haven't played for more than two years. They just haven't had the baseball that you expect."

Frank said their best game was against Silver Bay, a 5-3 league road loss, in which they made zero errors and accounted for 10 hits offensively. That wasn't the case at Johnson Memorial Park in Barnum last week, in which they committed three miscues and had just five hits, two each from senior Chase Morneau and freshman Brennan Kelley.

Frank's son, senior Andrew, was the losing pitcher, hurling 123 pitches. A week prior, the younger Frank was a part of a senior class trip to Washington, D.C. in which the team took the entire week off from all things baseball.

Andrew Frank was quick to answer what the coolest moment was.

"I'd say going up in the Washington Monument was pretty neat," Frank said.

The coolest part of the Wrens' program? The players keep on coming.

"I keep thinking this is going to be the last year," admitted Coach Frank, noting he has 24 players this spring and, for the first, time a junior varsity team too. "But most of the time, more kids keep showing up. That's nice."

For some players, like Weller, their high school tenures are over. The humble, 6-foot-2, 205-pound athlete is fine with that. He plans to play football and baseball at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids next fall, and is excited about his journey to get back on the field.

"Yeah, it sucks to get hurt, but it's not the end of the world — you can't let it haunt you forever," Weller said. "It's unfortunate that my career at Barnum is in the books, but I've had a blast with these guys since second grade."

And now it's time for him to be cheering them on at his loudest.