“Have fun” has been the order of the summer for the Cloquet VFW baseball team – but a few wins here and there are nice, too.

Greg Thompson’s team of middle school-age players swept a doubleheader at Hermantown on Tuesday, July 9, by 11-4 and 15-2, raising their record on the summer to 4-10.

“We started the season hitting the ball well,” Thompson said Wednesday, July 10. “We tailed off a little bit at the beginning of this month, but yesterday was really encouraging.”

Zach Tyman, one of the few second-year players on the team, hit well and was the winning pitcher in the first game. Joe Baker picked up the win in the second game.

“Zach can pretty well play anywhere,” Thompson said. “Joe took a couple of summers off from baseball, but now he’s back and for a players who hasn’t hit in a couple of years, he is doing very well.”

A big part of the VFW program involves preparing players to enter the high school program. As a result, Anderson and the VFW players get a lot of input from Cloquet high school coach Rick Norrgard.

“Rick is very big on being able to give us direction on where players need to improve and where to put them to learn a new position or other things,” Anderson said. “He’s good to work with and he gives us direction.”

Cloquet VFW shortstop Joe Baker makes a throw during Tuesday, July 9, games in Hermantown. (Dave Harwig / Pine Journal)
Cloquet VFW shortstop Joe Baker makes a throw during Tuesday, July 9, games in Hermantown. (Dave Harwig / Pine Journal)

There are 20 players rostered on this year’s team, with one from Carlton and the rest from Cloquet. Esko does not play VFW baseball, but instead opts its young players into Junior Legion ball.

Several kids play on the Duluth Jacks traveling team and about a quarter of the players also have double-duty with the Cloquet Legion team, so the players are kept busy all summer.

The principle is sort of like an extended spring training the Major League teams use.

“That’s accurate,” Thompson said. “But the main thing is that we are there to groom the players along their path to high school, and we do try to have fun.”

In Norrgard’s high school system, everyone on the roster is a pitcher until told otherwise. As a result, Thompson’s team concentrates on getting everyone time on the mound.

Cloquet's Grant Werhan hits during VFW baseball games Tuesday, July 9, in Hermantown. (Dave Harwig / Pine Journal)
Cloquet's Grant Werhan hits during VFW baseball games Tuesday, July 9, in Hermantown. (Dave Harwig / Pine Journal)

“We’re breaking in new arms,” he said. “So we’re working on pitching as much as anything else to get the players ready for their next steps.”

That means low pitch counts and fairly frequent changes in games.

“Our veteran pitchers, we’ll put them on high school pitch counts but for the most part, 50-55 pitches is enough for the young pitchers,” Thompson said. “And that gives everyone a chance.”

The team is not entered into any summer tournaments, but will be a secondary host for the upcoming district playoffs.

Scheduled for July 28-31, Cloquet will provide the secondary field while Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor serves as the main tournament site.