Bruce Baker is a baseball junkie, but the Cloquet American Legion coach didn't hesitate when asked if he would do some fishing on Lake Vermilion this weekend.
"Most of us are going camping and bringing our boats," said Baker as he and his team are headed to the annual Ely tournament beginning Friday, July 13. "It should be a fun weekend."
Baker's biggest catch isn't anticipated on the lake, but rather on the diamond. For the first time this summer, his boys should be fully rostered and healthy. Injuries, jobs, vacations and other sports have taken a toll on Baker's bunch, yet as we enter the dog days of July, Cloquet is counting on success.
The team is 4-4, but has wins over fellow district standouts Grand Rapids and Duluth Lakeview. Add in the fact they vied for VFW supremacy the past couple of summers and have been victors much of their lives, Baker is confident in his Cloquet crew to get to the American Legion state tournament for the first time since back in 1988.
"They're hungry for it," said Baker, who was a member of that late 80s team, before heading off for basic training. "They've won all the way through and are not used to losing."
That's much in part of the teenage boys he has. Recent graduates Cooper Grashorn, Noah Witte, Adam Luing and Parker Lundberg are all on the team, as well as Minnesota-Duluth commit Tim Pokornowski. Mix that with soon-to-be seniors Gavin Rasmussen, Noah Niemi and Baker's two boys, Nick and Jon, and Cloquet is as good as a contender as any.
Of the 16 boys on Baker's rosters, a majority started on Rick Norrgard's varsity team this spring, including everyday pitchers in Pokornowski, Rasmussen, Witte and Jon Baker. That makes them even more of a threat when being at full strength.
"If we're fully healthy, we're one of the strongest teams in the district," Baker said. "We're going to have to tighten up our defense, hit the ball and just get ready for the playoffs."
Meanwhile, the Cloquet VFW squad smiled their way to a split with Ordean East B on Tuesday, July 10, at Lake Park, including a 14-1 win in the nightcap that featured 10 hits in what coach Greg Thompson said was their best outing of the summer.
"The bats came alive," said Thompson, who also coaches a Cloquet intermediate team and is assisted by his son, Kaleb, and longtime volunteer Bruce Kahara. "It was much needed."
For a team with 20 players, they are currently 3-10, yet have a dozen league games left and districts July 30. Still, as with any team, the goal of summer ball is getting better.
"That's exactly what the program is geared toward," Thompson said. "And they're just a great bunch of kids."