Monday, September 29, 2008

Support the Dug-Out Club

The Dug-Out Club was organized in 1970 to promote and support the sport of baseball in the greater Madison area. The primary focus originally was that of a "booster club" for the University of Wisconsin baseball program until their demise.

Since that fateful day in 1991, emphasis has been placed on area youth and amateur programs. The Club has directed their time, efforts and resources in the past several years in response to numerous requests for assistance at the Little League, youth, high school, American Legion, Babe Ruth and adult amateur baseball levels. In year 2008 for example, the Dug-Out Club has provided financial assistance totaling in excess of $19,000 to 21 organizations. Since 1992, the Dug-Out Club has contributed $220,000 to baseball programs in the greater Madison area.

Each year for the past 27 years, the Dug-Out Club has sponsored the Greater Madison/Brewer Baseball Banquet (including Raffle and "Silent Auction") to help these programs. The 28th Annual Banquet is set for sometime in January 2009, again at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison. The Milwaukee Brewers organization will participate again this year. We are also in the process of lining up some special guests (the actual date is not currently set as the availability of the Milwaukee Brewers staff and Concourse Hotel is not yet known. Actual date should be finalized in the next few months).

We invite you to participate in and support this year’s banquet by purchasing a table. Cost for a table of 10 is $450 and the event includes a steak dinner and free beer and soda. Individual seats are also available at a cost of $50 each.

If you purchased a table in the past, we thank you and ask for your continued support. If you have not bought a table in the past, now is a great opportunity to begin and join in the fun, food, beverages and camaraderie by "talking baseball" with other baseball enthusiasts.

Please view our website at for more information about the banquet as it becomes available and feel free to contact any of the members with any questions you may have regarding the banquet or the Dug-Out Club.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Verona wins Home Talent League title

VERONA – There’s the curse of the Bambino.

The curse of the Billy Goat.

And the curse of the Cavalier?

“I don’t call it a curse,” said Verona manager Dale Burgenske. “It’s just that we got beat by better teams all those other years. The team that gets the best pitching and the best hitting and the best defense, and has that little Irish luck in there, that’s the difference in winning the pennant and maybe losing one or two games.”

Whether it’s a curse or not, one thing is for sure, the streak is over. Verona won their first ever Home Talent League championship on Sunday.

Since Burgenske has taken over management of the team, the Cavaliers have been to the league’s “Final Four” in six out of the past eight years and haven’t been able to cash in until this year.

Verona got by the Utica Association by a score of 6-1 in a championship series that was extended to an extra game due to both teams having identical 2-1 records at the end of round robin play.
Superior play in all phases of the game led to the victory.

The hard hitting Cavaliers pounded out 13 hits, while starting pitcher Matt Niffenegger scattered seven hits over nine innings.

Stolen bases led to runners in scoring position, and even right fielder Zach Spencer’s diving catch to record the last out of the game highlighted the team’s defensive prowess.

As has been the case throughout the championship series, the bottom of Verona’s order came up big once again in the final and deciding game.

“(Nick) Krohn, (Bill) Engelhart and (Dan) Koss were really super in the last two or three games,” said Burgenske. “That’s why you win is when you can execute like that. That’s the name of the game.”

It certainly was a team effort, though.

“We’ve had pretty much this core group of guys for awhile now,” said Krohn. “We didn’t have too much turnover over the past couple years, but it feels so good to do it with these guys.”

Utica had two chances to end the series but just couldn’t get it done. After having lost to Verona at home the week prior, the Association’s job got much harder when they had to travel to Utica on Sunday.

“You can’t beat these guys with one run,” said Utica manager Dale Vike. “They hit the ball. We knew it going in.”

Verona ended their streak of years without a championship in 2008. The Red Sox ended theirs in 2004. Could the Cubs be next?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Verona wins HTL title!

Congratulations to Verona, 2008 Home Talent League champions!

Monday, September 8, 2008

If this sounds familiar, it should

UTICA – New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The saying holds true in amateur baseball circles here in Wisconsin. One year ago, Monona had a chance to clinch the Home Talent League championship when they hosted Sauk Prairie in the third game of the league’s round robin format.

Monona lost, and they were forced to go on the road to win the championship the following weekend. It all sounds very similar to what’s happen this year in the HTL.

On Sunday the Utica Association had a chance to clinch the title, but lost to the Verona Cavaliers pushing the final and deciding game back a week.

With both Utica and Verona tied at 2-1 after three rounds of round robin play, the deciding game is to be played at the site opposite of which the teams first played. Thus, next week’s game will be played on Sunday September 14 at 1:00 p.m. in Verona.

What remains to be seen is if Utica can rebound and win the league pennant on enemy territory.

Utica failed to take advantage of the opportunity to prevent the series from extending an extra week by giving up a barrage of runs to a solid hitting Verona club.

The Association took 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning behind the strength of RBI singles by both Matt Ellingson and Micky Ramsden, but that was as good as it got for Utica.

Verona tied the score at 2-2 in the very next frame with a pair of run scoring singles by Zach Spencer and Justin Scanlon and never looked back.

“They hit the ball,” said Utica manager Dale Vike. “We had a couple mistakes that cost us some runs. That didn't beat us. They beat us.”

Verona kept on scoring to the tune of an 11-5 victory. The usually potent Cavalier lineup added some extra bang when the bottom of the batting order came up big in the victory.

The seven through nine hitters in the Verona lineup all had RBIs. Designated hitter Bill Englehart had two.

“It's a coach's dream when everybody down the lineup is making solid contact with the ball,” said Verona manager Dale Burgenske. “When our team plays that way, we score a lot of runs, period.”

Utica has their work cut out for them next week. Not only do they have to figure out a way to slow down the Verona slugging powerhouse, but they have to do so with an ailing pitching staff.

Ellingson, who started the first game of the Final Four for Utica, hasn’t pitched since due to soreness in his shoulder.

“They beat us today,” said Vike, “but that don't mean they're going to beat us next week.”

It’s kind of like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Utica at Verona on Sunday September 14 at 1:00 for the 53rd and final game on the road trip.

Tailgating at Utica

It was nice to see some good old fashioned tailgating before the Home Talent League championship round robin at Utica.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Utica has leg up on competition for Home Talent title

UTICA – Dinner hasn’t been served, but the Utica Association has reserved its seat at the head of the table. Going into the final weekend of round robin play, Utica is one win away from the Home Talent League championship.

The Association secured its spot as the only undefeated team left in round robin play on the strength of a 7-6 victory over Sun Prairie on Sunday in Utica.

Right fielder Micky Ramsden drove in the winning run with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to put Utica over the edge.

“Early in the count I was just trying to hit it hard and drive it,” said Ramsden, “get it out of the infield and maybe get a chance for a sac fly. But then once I got behind, I was just trying to hit it hard and hopefully it finds a hole, and it did.”

The winning run was just the tip of the iceberg for Utica, though, as they rallied from a 5-1 deficit to leg out the victory.

Down by four runs in the eighth inning, Matt Ellingson started the comeback with a sacrifice fly to score Matt Dwyer to make the score 5-2. Christian Stokstad followed with two RBI single scoring Brad Knickmeier and Doug Vike to get within two runs at 6-4.

In the ninth inning second baseman Doug Vike, son of Utica manager Dale Vike, drove in the tying run with a two RBI double to knot the score at 6-6. Vike subsequently scored the winning run on Ramsden’s single.

“I wasn't seeing the ball very well today at all, but I finally got lucky sooner or later,” said Doug Vike.

Veteran pitcher Scott “Scoobie” Hestnes got the victory for the Association after two innings in relief of Dwyer. Hestnes along with Dale Vike are the only two players left from Utica’s only other Home Talent League championship way back in 1991.

“I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Hestnes. “I’ve been in a lot of Final Fours. This is what I’ve been playing for right here. It’s awesome. Just awesome”

Only a victory next weekend over Verona will wrap up Utica’s first HTL title in 17 years. Several scenarios are still possible in which both Sun Prairie and Verona are still alive.

A Verona victory combined with a Sun Prairie loss on Sunday will force a one game playoff the following week where Utica would, in turn, have to play at Verona.

Another scenario where both Verona and Sun Prairie win next week would force a three way tie and extend the season two more weeks. A coin toss would determine who plays in the preliminary game.

Utica can put to rest any such eventualities with a win at the end of round robin play. And according to Dale Vike, the team is ready for the challenge.

“A lot of these guys haven't won a championship, and they want it bad,” said Vike. “I just hope they can win it just for them. I know what it feels like. I want them to feel it. It's the greatest feeling other than your kids being born.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Verona at Utica in the third round of the championship series round robin on Sunday September 7 at 1:00.

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 25, 2008

Verona Home Talent is a family affair

MARSHALL – The Verona Cavaliers lost the opening game of the Home Talent League championship series round robin due to a Sun Prairie walk-off homerun, but all is not lost. If they keep focused on what got them to the “Final Four,” there’s still hope.

What got them as far as they did was some family-oriented baseball.

Manager Dale Burgenske has two offspring that are starters on the Verona nine. Son Derek was the team’s starting centerfielder on Sunday while his brother David was right by his side over in leftfield.

But that’s not all. First base coach Dan Prochaska’s son Derek was behind the plate catching for the Cavaliers.

“It's not just me being his son,” said Derek. “He looks after everybody else on the team. He and Dale are dads for everybody. It's just nice having that family aspect of it.”

Even if none of the other players have brothers on the team, they can at least feel like they do. That’s been one of the key ingredients in Verona’s recipe for success.

“I think it relaxes the kids a little bit knowing that they're not just being watched by strangers,” said Dan Prochaska. “They can relax a little and feel comfortable out there knowing that they have support behind them, not just the players, but family support.”

The family aspect has gotten Verona a long way. They rode into the game against Sun Prairie on a seven game winning streak, they had the best record in the Western section during the regular season, and they’ve made the championship series in six out of the past eight years.

In fact, Dale Burgenske has a 94-17 record in the regular season since 2002. It’s fair to say that Verona has been one of the league’s most dominant teams during his tenure. And according to Burgenske, the family-like bond is part of the reason they’ve seen so much success.

“You've got to get that camaraderie,” said Dale Burgenske. “You play on Thursdays, you play on Sundays, and sometimes it's the camaraderie that gets you the five or six extra wins, or it gets you into the ‘Final Four.’ So we have a great time. It is kind of a family thing here, and we enjoy that part of it too.”

In the storied eighty year history of the Home Talent League, Verona has never been able to win it all. They just haven’t been able to get over the hump, but this could be the year that changes that trend.

Thanks to the league’s unique round robin format, no team is eliminated from contention after the first round of play. And no team has the championship wrapped up for that matter either.

“No one's ever out of it,” said Dale Burgenske. “Everybody always wants to win that first game, because all then all they got to do hopefully is split the rest of the way out, and they still got a chance to be in the sudden death playoff. But yeah, our backs are against the wall now.”

Their backs may be against the wall, but with the family-like feel the Verona team has, at least the players know that somebody’s got their back.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie at Utica in the second round of the championship series round robin on Sunday August 31 at 1:00.

Photo caption: Verona's Derek Prochaska waits to receive a warm up pitch in the opening game of the "Final Four."
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Gross wins the game

Sun Prairie's Aaron Gross is moments away from crossing home plate after his towering walk-off home run in their opening round victory over Verona in the Home Talent League championship round robin.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Feiner leads Sun Prairie in more ways than one

DE FOREST – Sun Prairie was the lowest remaining seed in the entire 42 team Home Talent League. They beat all odds and the DeForest Deacons on Sunday to earn their way into the league’s championship series thanks in large part to catcher Kasey Feiner.

To say that he’s experienced doesn’t begin to describe this year’s starting catcher on the HTL All-Star team. He’s a veteran influence and a leader both on his team and even within his own family.

While Feiner is paving the way for Sun Prairie to go to the Final Four, he has two brothers that are playing professional baseball whom he played mentor to as they grew up.

“Kasey was a great teacher along the way the way for his younger brothers,” said his father Scott. “No doubt about it.”

Kasey’s brother Korey is a catcher in the Seattle Mariners minor league organization while Kevyn is a middle infielder in the Cincinnati Reds farm system.

So while his siblings are getting paid to play, Kasey is enjoying the spoils of a successful season back home.

One of the reasons Sun Prairie finds themselves as the Eastern section playoff champions is that Feiner and several his teammates have been there and done that before. As HTL champions in 2005, Feiner knows better than to let the pressure of a big game dictate how the team plays. “

The special one about this is you get to appreciate it because you've already been there and won one,” said Feiner. “You really get to relax and appreciate it.”

A lot was at stake on Sunday. The loser was sent home packing, but the winner gets to play an addition three and maybe even four weeks in the league’s round robin championship format.
“We've got a little more playoff experience than they do,” said Sun Prairie manager Scott Knorr about one of the reasons they were able to beat DeForest and move on in the playoffs.

Sun Prairie was the lowest remaining seed coming into Eastern section playoffs and, of course, they will continue to be as they begin the first round of the championship series next week when they take on Verona in Marshall on Sunday. Feiner thinks it’s an advantage not to be the favorite.

“Even though we were the fourth seed, I was feeling confident about that Monona game,” said Feiner about their opening round victory in the Eastern section a week prior. “And it's kind of nice because you win that one and you get some momentum going, and you're still the underdog. They're still expected to beat you.”

No one would have blamed Feiner had he packed it in after Sun Prairie won the league title back in 2005. After all, here he is toiling in amateur baseball when two of his brothers are playing professionally.

But he doesn’t feel like the low man on the totem pole. Instead he’s achieving at highest level he knows.

“You play to have fun and to compete against other people,” said Feiner. “I get to have my parents and a whole bunch of people come watch me. So those guys [his brothers] are kind of slaving away. I don't know who has it better.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie plays Verona in the first round of the championship series round robin at Marshall on Sunday August 24 at 1:00.

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 11, 2008

Celebrated season comes to an end in Evansville

“The slipper almost fit, huh?” said Evansville Home Talent centerfielder/general manager Jon Frey after his team’s first ever playoff appearance on Sunday.

Evansville may have had a storybook season, but it just didn’t have a storybook ending. Their reign as Cinderella ended with their loss to the Fort Atkinson Generals in the first round of the Southeastern section playoffs.

In only their fourth year in Home Talent, the Evansville Jays have come a long way. In their first three seasons their best Sunday League record included only four wins, which they managed twice. They more than doubled that output this year when their 10-4 record was good enough for first place in the West division of the Southeastern section.

The season was highlighted by their sole possession of first place in the West at midseason, but a few late losses resulted in a tie for first with Utica. Evansville lost the tiebreaker and had to head to Fort Atkinson in the playoffs as a result.

But it’s not as if Evansville didn’t give Fort a run for their money. After being down by four runs early in the game, the Jays came back to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth behind the strength of a Nick Manion two run homer.The game went to extra innings, but Fort Atkinson ousted the Jays when a Scott Kammer RBI single scored Brandon Krigbaum in the bottom of the tenth to cap off an exciting finish.

When asked about the outcome after the game, Generals manager Jim Roethel replied, “Well, as soon as my heart gets back to normal.”

Evansville could have rolled over when down by a score of 5-1, but fought back in a valiant effort.

“We made a nice comeback,” said Jays manager Bob Kurtz. “I'm proud of our guys, the way they battled back in this game. I'm proud of every one of them because they stuck their nose in there and got it done, but we came up on the short end.”

At the very least, Evansville served notice to the rest of the league that they’re for real. While some sections take eight teams to the playoffs, the Southeast only takes four. Simply qualifying for the playoffs was an accomplishment in itself.

For the young team, it will be a learning experience. Evansville won a lot of close games earlier in the year. And now that they were on the losing end of a close game, they have no choice but to look back, reflect and learn from their season ending loss.

“We won a lot of games in the last inning and extra innings,” said Kurtz. “I think we won three extra inning ball games, and that put us where we were in the standings. We just came out on the short end of it today.”

After the game, the Jays had a discussion in the visitors’ dugout, and suddenly things didn’t seem so bad even though their season had just ended.

Frey relayed the essence of it: “Bob said it at the end of the game, maybe we put Evansville on the Home Talent map.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie at DeForest on Sunday August 17 at 1:00 for the right to go to the Final Four.
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 4, 2008

Veteran duo put Utica on the map

UTICA, Wis. – On Saturday’s regular season finale against rival Stoughton during the annual Utica Festival, the two people with arguably the most influence on Utica baseball didn’t take the field.

Just because they didn’t play doesn’t mean their presence wasn’t felt, though. Dale Vike and Scott Hestnes are as much a part of the Utica Festival as the tractor pulls.

If Hestnes doesn’t ring a bell, maybe “Scoobie” does as he’s more well-known in Home Talent circles. The forty-something southpaw teamed with the fifty-something Vike to form one of the Home Talent League’s most formidable batteries during Utica’s dominance in the early to mid-nineties.

“He was a helluva pitcher in his day,” said Vike about Hestnes. “I know. I caught him for about 10 years.” After establishing a team in 1990 after a four year layoff, it only took the duo two seasons to help lead the Utica Association to a league championship in ’91, which both call among their most memorable experiences in all their years of Home Talent.

“Just winning the championship,” said Vike, “I’ve always dreamed of that. That was the best memory.”

“That first year we were out here, we were competitive,” recalls Hestnes. “We just never could seem to put nine innings together. And then obviously '91 we put it all together, and it basically snowballed from there on out.”

As good as their on-the-field exploits were their off-the-field time spent together was just as memorable.

“We had a lot of fun times,” said Hestnes. “Probably after ballgames, a lot of late nights and early mornings out to Dale's farm after ballgames. Dale doing a lot of breakfast cooking with eggs and helping him milk cows in the morning.”

Strictly a manager now, Vike’s playing days are behind him. Hestnes, meanwhile, still pitches occasionally. The crafty left-hander now relies on guile and accuracy.

“Scoobie doesn’t look like he’s a very hard pitcher to hit, but he has a lot of really good off speed pitches even at his age,” said Stoughton manager Jim Winter. “He doesn’t throw very hard anymore, but he’s got enough off speed pitches that he keeps you off balance.”

If they’re smart, the younger Utica players will learn as much as possible from Vike and Hestnes. There’s a lot of baseball experience and knowledge between the two of them.

When he was younger, Vike played in the Cleveland Indians farm system. And Hestnes played in three college World Series during his time at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The junior Utica players better soak up as much as they can as quickly as they can. The pair admit they’re closer to the end of their baseball careers than they are to the beginning. But as long as they’re having fun, like they had at Utica Fest, they’ll keep at it.

When asked about what keeps him playing baseball, Hestnes replied, “Just the competitiveness, the camaraderie, the fans. Watching the other guys come up through. Days like this, you know?”

Those who follow Home Talent know exactly what he means.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Evansville at Fort Atkinson on Sunday August 10 at 1:00 for the Jays’ first ever playoff appearance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Game at Ashton like stepping back in time

ASHTON, Wis. – There might be a portal taking passengers back in time when driving east down county road K outside of Madison. About one mile east of the beltline lies the tiny community of Ashton, unmarked on most Wisconsin roadmaps. It’s hard to believe the unincorporated community could support a baseball team, but it does.

It was a look into a bygone era on Sunday when Ashton hosted Middleton for an old-timers game before the current versions of the same teams played their regular season finale. For a large Home Talent congregation of a couple hundred fans, it was as if they had wandered into the set of Field of Dreams with cornstalks lined up along the outfield fence.

Even Milt Friend was on the mound for Middleton, the same Milt Friend who pitched for Middleton back in the 1960s, now seventy-two years of age.

“I try to make sure I'm around for this game because it's a great deal of fun,” said Friend. “There’s really good ballplayers, and it’s nice to see some of the guys you've played with back twenty, thirty, forty years ago. You look at, these guys can still swing the bat. They still make the plays fielding. It's a fun game. It really is. I just like to see the camaraderie. Somebody gets a good hit, and other guys congratulate him. It's not a blood game, you know? And yet, the guys try. They want to get hits, and pitchers want to get the guys out. Within limits.”

Friend has seen it all in amateur baseball, from the South to the Canadian border, as he says. He’s played from the Catskills League and the Twilight League in New York to the Rock River League and the Industrial League in Wisconsin. He’s even played in the adult World Series out in Phoenix on the Major League Baseball spring training diamonds. But the Home Talent League might just be the best of all his baseball experiences.

“For me, this is the best of all of the leagues,” said Friend. “You get good fan turnout. It’s hometown baseball. It's really quality baseball, but yet it's fun. I mean, look at how many people are here.”

The fans came for the old-timers game and stayed for the regular season finale. The fans, after all, are what Ashton is known for, so says current Ashton manager Dave Adler.

“There's not a whole lot here,” said Adler. “About 20 houses and a tavern and a church, and that's about all you need. We've got good support because we get anywhere from 150 to 500 people at a game.”

When going to Ashton, it’s almost as if the fans watch the game in black and white. Played on the grounds of St. Peter’s Park, Home Talent baseball has been played here for 61 years in the shadow of the large stone steeple of the adjoining church.

Behind the backstop is a memorial to Connie Grob, former Major League pitcher for the Washington Senators back in the 1960s who played for the Ashton and Cross Plains Home Talent League teams before and after his professional career. Just a stone’s throw away from the field is Connie’s Home Plate, the community’s only tavern formerly owned by Grob.

It was day where the past and present came together and meshed into one. The old-timers game was a chance for guys who played together in high school to renew the rivalries from when they played against each other in Home Talent.

“That's kind of what it's all about,” said Middleton manager Darrell Hellenbrand. “It's just a good get-together.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Stoughton at Utica on Saturday August 2nd at 1:00 for the 37th annual Utica Festival.

Home Talent photo blogging

Memorial to former Major League and Home Talent pitcher Connie Grob at St. Peter's Park in Ashton.

Home Talent photo blogging

Fans gather at St. Peter's Park in Ashton for the old-timers game.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Home plate is here in Waunakee.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Davy Tomlinson and Kory Ryan of Poynette sign autographs during the league's All-Star game.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Ridgeway manager Rich Hogan is all smiles as his Cardinals sweep Verona giving them their only two losses of the year.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tobbaco Days crowd watches Albion win

ALBION, Wis. – Coach Dale Vike and his Utica Association couldn’t win at Albion on Sunday. It just wasn’t in the cards. Fate and the Tigers’ unique home field advantage wouldn’t let it happen.

First of all, it was Tobacco Heritage Days in Edgerton that weekend. And even though it was technically Edgerton’s festival, the celebration spilled over into the sibling city of Albion. Just two miles down the road, Albion is in Edgerton’s school district, and Albion’s Home Talent League team pulls many of its players from nearby Edgerton as well. With many people in town for the occasion, the Tigers beat Utica in front of their largest crowd of the season.

Tobacco Heritage Days isn’t just some antiquated nod to the Region’s past either. It just wouldn’t have been right to see the Tigers lose when there are actual tobacco farmers on the team. Among them, Albion’s Leif Thronson makes his living raising tobacco with his family.

“It's kind of an emotionally investing crop,” explains Thronson. “You spend nights up if there's a storm coming and you haven't topped the tobacco. It's great. You spend a lot of time with friends and family because you're working right next to them.”

Between planting, setting, topping, and harvesting the crop, there’s always a need for labor among the town’s youth. Albion manager Ben Towns, who also was raised on a farm that at one time grew tobacco, estimated that a “good chunk” of the players on the team worked in tobacco in some sort or fashion while growing up.

In an age of being politically correct, the festival’s name was changed last year to Edgerton Heritage Days under recommendation from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and other state level organizations due to the area’s association with tobacco. The change lasted just one year. Back this year was the celebration’s original namesake honoring its rural farming traditions.

While bringing in a good crowd for the day’s game, Albion also reaped the benefit of knowing their home field just a little bit better than their opponents. “Tiger Stadium,” as it is affectionately known, is as distinctive a ballpark as any in the Home Talent League.

Home plate sits in the shadows of Kumlien Hall, the only remaining building from the now defunct Albion Academy that opened in 1854. Considered as one of the first co-educational colleges in Wisconsin, the school has such alums as former Colorado governor Alva Adams and ex-U.S. Senator Knute Nelson . Towns even said on a dry summer day, the outline of one of the Academy’s old foundations can still be easily seen in the outfield.

As far as baseball goes, homeruns are earned in Albion. With no outfield fence, batters must make their way around the bases before the ball reaches back home if they are to be credited with a homerun.

On this particular Sunday in Albion, in place of a fence sat several dozen spectators on lawn chairs lining the perimeter of the outfield mixed in amongst the shade of some trees looming overhead. In the realm of 400 feet away from home plate, no balls reached the fans. And even if one did, they’d have plenty of time to retreat before any defender came near.

For one last quirk, a paved road runs through right field, an obstacle to any unsuspecting outfielder. “If you’ve got metal cleats on,” explained Towns, “and you take off running across the blacktop, if you don't tiptoe just right, you're going for a ride.”

It’s possible the home field advantage earned Albion at least one run on Sunday’s 9-4 victory over Utica. Towns thought he saw a Utica defender look down for an instant before dropping a fly ball near that pesky road that led to an Albion run.

And finally, if by some off chance none of those factors were enough to motivate an Albion player to win, Towns knew the rivalry with Utica would.“We always kind of amp up for Tobacco Days because we know we're getting a home game with Utica,” said Towns. “And the rivalry with Utica alone is enough to get you amped up.”
Photo: An old tobacco barn sits just outside Albion
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Here's another picture from this weekend's festivities. Sun Prairie's Kasey Feiner is doing catching duties for the Home Talent All-Stars.

Home Talent photo blogging

Here's another picture from this past weekend's festivities.

Monday, July 14, 2008

All-Star victory

The HTL All-Stars were victorious in a 5-2 win over the U.S. Military All-Stars at Warner Park on Sunday as part of the Northwoods League All-Star festivities hosted by the Madison Mallards.

Krigbaum has All-Star day

MADISON – Fort Atkinson shortstop Brandon Krigbaum is a busy guy.

On Monday he’s working, like usual, at his job at Cygnus Business Media in Fort Atkinson as a computer programmer. On Tuesday he’s traveling to New York to give some presentations and training for Cygnus. By Wednesday night, he’ll be back in Wisconsin just in time for a Thursday night baseball game against Sun Prairie.

But it was this past Sunday when he was really, really busy.
In the afternoon Krigbaum led his team into hostile territory in Jefferson for the rivalry-laden “Trifecta” game against the Blue Devils.

The “Trifecta” is Jefferson’s biggest game of the year with the Home Talent League team leading things off followed by a junior Legion game followed a Legion game, all against Fort Atkinson.

“What's really awesome about the rivalry,” said Krigbaum, “at least from what I've seen in the two years I've been here, is that we're ultra-competitive and really want to beat them on the day of the game. But once the game's over with …it's all laughs and we forget about it. That's pretty awesome.”

Adding to the pageantry was the fact that Jefferson held a one game lead over Fort Atkinson in the Southeastern section standings.

Krigbaum hit a leadoff single between third and short to start the game and would go onto score the first run of the game on a Tim Brokl double. Fort Atkinson led 1-0 and never looked back.
The Generals went on to shut out Jefferson 8-0 on the road in what would be revenge for the 14-0 drubbing they received from the Blue Devils at home their first meeting of the year. Even more important was the first place tie Fort Atkinson had pulled into as a result of the win.

“It couldn't have come at a better time,” said Krigbaum. “We needed to win today really bad to have a really good shot at getting back to the playoffs.”

Immediately after the game Krigbaum and his sister April loaded into his black GMC Sierra to head to Madison for the Home Talent League All-Star game against the U.S. Military All-Stars as part of the Northwoods League All-Star festivities hosted by the Madison Mallards.

Krigbaum was part of the team selected to take on the military team comprised of active duty servicemen from the various branches of service. They were on their Red, White, and Blue Tour of America barnstorming the country at their own expense. Dressed in unique camouflage uniforms, the players are subject to deployment at anytime. The game against the HTL All-Stars was just one of literally dozens they’d play this year.

The Krigbaum siblings took Highway 26 north to Johnson Creek to meet up with their father who would follow them to the game. After then taking Highway 94 west into Madison, they would meet up with extended family including their grandfather, himself a 16 time Home Talent League All-Star for Poynette.

Baseball talent runs in the Krigbaum family. After leading the entire Southeastern section in hitting last season with a .533 batting average, Krigbaum is one of the league leaders again this season.

For his prowess, he was rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup, second in the batting order for the HTL All-Star team. Not unlike the game against Jefferson, Krigbaum hit a single in his first at bat, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. On an RBI single by Middleton centerfielder Josh Hinson, Krigbaum scored the first run of the game, a lead they wouldn’t give up on their way to a 5-2 victory.

With a team composed of 46 players plus coaches, there were a lot of congratulations for Krigbaum to receive.

“I think it took me longer to make it through the high five line than it did to go around the bases,” said Krigbaum.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Utica at Albion on Sunday July 20th at 2:00 for the Tobacco Days festival.

Brian Carriveau is writing a book about the Home Talent League this summer. He can be contacted at

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

All-Star dugout

The dugout wasn't exactly constructed for 46 players players plus coaches, so the Home Talent All-Stars had to make due.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Manager/right fielder Trent Sorg and the Sauk Prairie Twins got by the Black Earth Bombers on Saturday night by a score of 3-2. The Twins stay undefeated in Home Talent League play with a 11-o record.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Unveiling the Home Talent roster

The Home Talent League All-Stars will take on the U.S. Military All-Stars as part of the All-American Challenge on Sunday July 13 at 6:05 p.m. The game is part of the Northwoods League's All-Star festivities at Warner Park in Madison as hosted by the Madison Mallards. A fan fest including autographs, a Northwoods League homerun derby, and the world's largest brat at 60' 6" will precede the Home Talent game.

Ben Wallace--Argyle
Josh Hathaway--Blanchardville
Erich Wollin--Lake Mills
Ryan Von Haden--Stoughton
Matt Dwyer--Utica
Cory Schuchart--McFarland
Matt Hill--Waunakee
Craig Meier--Ashton
Jeremy Horkan--Reedsburg

Marty Johnson--Albion
Derik Daggett--Cottage Grove
Kasey Feiner--Sun Prairie
Stein Rear--New Glarus
Rooney Janecke--Monroe
Davy Tomlinson--Poynette

First Base
Dan Crombie--Columbus
Pat Moore--Orfordville
Jason Mackey--Whitewater
Tim Cleary--Middleton
Ben Greiber--Waunakee
Lewis Veith--Richland Center
Kevin Oimoen--Ridgeway

Second Base
John Duerst--Ashton
Brad Knickmeier--Utica

James James--Plain
Brandon Krigbaum--Fort Atkinson
PJ Stilling--Lake Mills
Todd Grossman--Marshall

Third Base
Aaron Lancaster--Wiota
Kory Ryan--Poynette
Matt Peetz--Verona

Left Field
Paul Schlimgen--Black Earth
Brad D'Orazio--Pine Bluff
Derek Rice--Cottage Grove
Adrian Flores--Cambridge

Center Field
Derek Burgenske--Verona
Josh Hinson--Middleton
Michael Brunner--Black Earth
Dan Gugel--Monona
Ryan Pollesch--Rio
Tyler Sellnow--Waterloo
Brandon Ihm--Hollandale

Right Field
Scott Hauge--Mazomanie
Jeremy Rasmussen--Evansville
Brandon Peyer--Reedsburg
Gary James--Dodgeville

Vern Geishert--Richland Center

Monday, July 7, 2008

Too much water for Waterloo



WATERLOO – Waterloo third base coach Jim Setz answered a question with a question of his own.

“Ever see the movie Evan Almighty?” asked Setz referencing the movie about a man on a Noah’s ark-like quest when asked about what the town’s Fireman’s Park looked like after the recent flooding. “The boat he built, and that flood came out, that dam broke. That's about the way it looked.”

In about a week’s time from June 7 to June 13, southern Wisconsin was hit with as much as 16 inches of rainfall in certain areas. Subsequent flooding closed major highways, damaged houses, and even caused Lake Delton near Wisconsin Dells to empty when a dam was breached. Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency in 30 Wisconsin counties. And, in addition, President George Bush declared twelve counties as federal disaster areas making them eligible for aid from FEMA.

As far as sports goes, the ball field at Waterloo was just about as hard hit as any in the state. Known for the smiles that homeruns hit to left field created when they would splashdown in the Maunesha River, that same river created despair when it overflowed and completely covered the playing field due to the June rains.

“There wasn't a ball diamond down here,” said Waterloo manager Marc Burbach. “The water was all the way back up to the backstop. The only thing you could see on the whole pitcher's mound was the rubber. Everything else looked like a pond or a lake.”

The scene produced jaw dropping awe, and not in a good sense. In one area the park sat under three and a half feet of water. The outfield fence collapsed under too much pressure pressure. Picnic tables were carried out all the way to scoreboard in centerfield. The nearly 100 year old carousel, one of only 150 like it in the entire United States, is out of commission after being swamped with water.

“I was sitting on our home team bench, I was in tears,” said Craig Setz, Waterloo’s business manager for its Home Talent League team. “I just couldn't believe it.”

Determined to play baseball on the field by the Fourth of July, the entire community got behind the project to spruce up the park. What they accomplished was nothing short of remarkable.

A tile ditch and clear stone were laid in an area created by a natural swale just beyond the left field foul line to help direct drainage out to the river. And that was just the first step in a much longer process.

Exactly six days before July fourth, community members came to the park for a work bee on a Saturday that took all day long. About 120 people showed up in all and got down to work.

Garbage and debris that was littered all over the field was picked up. Playground equipment was bleached. The old chain link fence was disposed of and a temporary orange snow fence was erected. Three dump truck loads of sand that had been deposited in left field from the river were hauled away. The team cut and re-edged the infield. And the field was rolled to form a level playing surface.

“Without all the help from the people and the town, it wouldn't have happened,” said Bob Krieg, a member of the Park’s board.

The result wasn’t perfect. The field was still very damp, muddy and mushy. Outfielders’ cleats were clogged with dirt upon returning to the dugout. But at least it was safe.

Maybe most importantly, the town’s Fourth of July Festival went on as planned. Complete with the city band, a dunk tank, arm wrestling contest, musical entertainment, all the food you could eat, the Klements Racing Sausages, fireworks, and – of course – baseball, the event was a success.

“I honestly didn’t think that we’d ever be playing on it again,” said Craig Setz.

Ignore the 15-2 loss at the hands of Marshall. Waterloo has still come a long way.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Fort Atkinson at Jefferson for “The Trifecta” before the All-American Challenge pitting the HTL All-Stars versus the U.S Military All-Stars on Sunday July 13 at Warner Park as part of the Northwoods League’s All-Star game in Madison.

Photo credit: Craig Setz & Brian Carriveau

Trouble brewing

The annual Waterloo Fourth of July Festival hit a snag on its way to hosting a great event. First of all, hours of work had to be put in to get the field ready for baseball. With all the flooding due to recent rains, the park was under three and half feet of water in certain places. The old chain link fence collapsed and a temporary orange snow fence had to be erected. The field was still damp on Independence Day, but it was playable.
Between the Legion and Home Talent games at 2:00 p.m., the night's entertainment, the band Madison County, pulled their RV and equipment trailer out into right field to unload. The stage was just outside four territory on the first base side. Unfortunately, they got stuck in the still damp and mushy outfield.
The first attempt to get them out by hooking onto a tractor resulting in nothing more than exhaust and spinning wheels.

One ... two ... three, push!

Then the Waterloo baseball team pushed while the tractor pulled. Unfortunately, they still didn't have enough power to move an inch.

Uh, oh

The first attempt at pulling the RV out of the way by skid loader didn't turn out very well. The two ends of this chain looked the same before the skid loader pulled it right off.

Out of the way

A skid loader provided by a local contractor towed the band's RV out of the way removing the obstruction, but there was still more work to do.

Hole-y cow!

The band's R.V. was out of the way, but what was going to be done about the ruts the tires had just created? Among the several holes created, this one was the biggest at about eight inches deep. Outfielders would have had quite a hazard to deal with. Dirt had to be brought in to fill the holes.

Let it roll

The last step in the process was to roll the outfield where dirt had to be brought in to fill the holes created by the ruts from the RV.

Play ball!

At least 1,000 fans and the players were able to watch the game finally get underway about an hour and 15 minutes later than it probably should have started. Credit goes out to all the Waterloo citizens who volunteered their time to make the Festival a possibility. Just a month ago, no one knew if even hosting a game would be a possibility after all the flooding.

That's me

Waterloo gave me the opportunity to dress up as the bratwurst for the sausage race. A partnership with Klements allows them to use the famous Milwaukee Brewers racing sausages for their Fourth of July Festival every year.

And down the stretch they come!

I'm proud to say I won the race.

Tourists roll in Dodgeville

Mark Hamilton and the New Glarus Tourists got their Independence Day weekend started a little early with a win over Dodgeville on July 3rd. Hamilton led the way with a three run homerun that helped propel them to a win.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Evansville steps into the spotlight

“I’m a promoter,” said Jon Frey during the annual Evansville Home Talent League bowling fundraiser back in February. “I have this mindset of promotion and marketing and sales.”

Plans were in place, even back then, to have the Evansville Jays take on the Lake Mills Grays at Warner Park following a Madison Mallards game. The time had finally come on Sunday when those plans came to fruition. The Jays beat the Grays 9-0 on one of the nicest ball fields in southern Wisconsin this side of Miller Park.

According to Frey, the game had been a year and a half in the works. He had wanted his team to play there last year, but things just didn’t work out. This year, he was prepared to put that P.T. Barnum-esque brain of his to work.

“I want to first promote my community, Evansville” said Frey back in February. “And then I want to promote the Evansville community festival, the Fourth of July. And then I want to promote my team, and then I want promote my league because all these people in Madison are going to be exposed to an amateur league at this game.”

His team needs no self-promotion. They’ve let their actions on the field do the talking this season. As the team’s general manager/center fielder, Frey deserves a lot of credit after building this team from scratch.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Frey received a job offer to work in Beloit. With his wife working in Madison, they bought a house about halfway in between, settling in Evansville.

Frey commuted all the way to his hometown, Marshall, to play baseball for several years before attempting to build a franchise in Evansville in 2005. He did all the dirty work including player recruitment, fundraising, and a myriad of other duties it takes to get a team off the ground.
In their first year, the Jays won all of three games. In 2006 and 2007, they improved to win four, but still lost three quarters of their Sunday League schedule.

Finally in 2008, the hard work has started to pay off. The Jays are now in sole possession of first place in the Western division of the Southeastern section of the Home Talent League with a six and one record.

“It’s a lot more fun to go out and expect to win instead of, ‘How we going to win this one? How are we going to go out and play this one?’” said right fielder Jeremy Rasmussen. “The last couple of years we've gone out, we didn't know which was going to come out. Were we going to make 10 errors or are we going to have 10 hits?”

Surprisingly, it’s a lot of the same players on the team back from that inaugural 2005 season when they barely won. Back then, players maybe hadn’t played in a long time. With a couple years of practice and seasoning, they’re playing some of the best baseball of their careers.

“I think people weren't used to hitting,” said shortstop Nick Manion, “so you can tell we're more relaxed hitting. That's what hitting is about, being relaxed. You can tell that people are relaxed and people are throwing strikes. That's a huge thing. Our pitchers are throwing strikes.”

With Frey at the helm, the Jays are winning baseball games, and amateur baseball is being promoted to a larger audience. In fact, in just a few weeks, the Home Talent League All-Stars will be playing the U.S. Military All-Stars in the All-American Challenge at Warner Park on Sunday July 13.

The game is part of the Northwoods League All-Star game festivities being hosted by the Mallards. Rasmussen will be Evansville’s representative, and he’s just glad he’s been given that chance thanks to guys like Jon Frey.

“I thank him every day, having the opportunity to come out and keep playing,” said Rasmussen. “Otherwise I'd be playing co-ed softball.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Marshall at Waterloo on Friday for the annual Waterloo Fourth of July Festival.

Photo: The Evansville Jays take on the Lake Mills Grays at Warner Park

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Home Talent photo blogging

Evansville watches the Madison Mallards take on the Green Bay Bullfrogs at Warner Park from the vantage of the adjacent practice field bleachers as they wait for the game to end, and they can take the field.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Make sure to come and watch Jeremy Rasmussen and the rest of the Evansville Jays take on Lake Mills on this upcoming Sunday June 29th at Warner Park in Madison following the Mallards game. The Mallards play at 3:05 p.m. with Home Talent League action immediately afterwards.

Home Talent photo blogging

Lucas Beese and Middleton roughed up on Evansville in a Night League makeup game on Tuesday night. Middleton won 12-7.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Mazo belle ringing "The Mazo Bell"

MAZOMANIE – Lois O’Connell was in the bleachers in Mazomanie on Saturday watching her Mustangs take on the Pine Bluff Bluffers in a Home Talent League match up.

There were few things better to do that day for O’Connell. After all, what better way was there to spend the day than take in a baseball game on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year?

She was in attendance to support her son and his team. Her son, Dan O’Connell, was manager of Mazomanie ball club. And support she would, by ringing a bell, a gilded little treasure, with every good play made by the Mustangs.

Sometimes a double would elicit the sound of her bell. At other times, a nicely turned double play by the “Mazo” infielders would too. But not very often. It was certain plays that made her give the bell a vociferous shake.

“Especially when we score,” explained Lois. “Otherwise it’s clap, clap.”

Lois has been at it, cheering on the Mazomanie squad for some time now. As long as her son has been either playing or managing.

“How long has she been doing this?” Dan asked himself.

“For many, many years,” he said in reply. “I started in 1974, I guess. I was at Black Earth, Wisconsin from ’74 to ’93, and I came over to Mazo and started a team over here. And I enjoyed every minute of it. And she’s been ringing the bell down here when we score runs.”

Lois and the bell got a workout this particular Saturday. Mazomanie would end up winning the game in a high scoring 21 to 9 affair. Unfortunately for Pine Bluff, they still might hear the ringing in their ears.

In the bottom of the seventh with two runners on base, up by a score of 18-9, Mazomanie’s Mark Nelson stepped up to the plate with a chance to end the game.

“A single would have ended the game,” said Mark referencing the 10 run rule in the Home Talent League that ends play anytime after the seventh inning. “So I was just trying to put bat on ball and hit it hard somewhere. Sometimes that way you don’t overswing, and good things happen.”

Good things did, indeed, happen. A powerful drive over the right field fence resulted in a walk off homerun for Nelson and the Mustangs. An animated shake of “The Mazo Bell” by Lois signaled the end of the game.

“The offense was just on fire today, and I guess the credit goes to everybody,” said Dan O’Connell. “I don’t really think there’s any particular hero today. I guess everybody did their chores, and got the job done for us.”

If everybody did their chores, it was Nelson, at least, who used a little elbow grease and helped cap off the win.

Lois, meanwhile, wouldn’t end up putting her bell away for long.

Mazomanie would travel to Cazenovia the very next day, and Lois would trek along to one of the furthest outposts in the league. It was a double-up weekend for the Northern section where most teams had to play games two days in a row.

It would be a hike, but that didn’t matter.

“It’s such a pretty drive,” said Lois.

Considering it was the solstice, there was plenty of daylight to take in another ballgame and ring that bell.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Lake Mills takes on Evansville at Warner Park in Madison on Sunday June 29 at the conclusion of the Mallards game.

Brian Carriveau is writing a book about the Home Talent League this summer. He can be contacted at

Home Talent photo blogging

Marshall plays a game of "base-olf" in the time leading up to the rivalry game with Waterloo during the Marshall Firemen's Festival.

Home Talent photo blogging

Plain travels to Cross Plains to take on the Businessmen.

Home Talent Photo Blogging

Mazomanie is home of the Mustangs.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Festival still holds aura of Clarence Buss

COTTAGE GROVE – The Buss family gathered this past weekend for a family get-together just like they do every year for the annual Cottage Grove Firemen’s Festival now in its 77th year.

Even Dennis Buss who makes his year-round home in Anchorage, Alaska nowadays, made his yearly pilgrimage to be here just like he has been here every year since he was a child. It makes for the perfect weekend for a family reunion. The midway pulls into town complete with a Ferris wheel. Music hovers over Firemen’s Park from Thursday through Sunday.

And it all centers around baseball. From Teeners to Legion to Home Talent, there’s plenty of baseball to be had from the first day of the festival to the last. Many Home Talent League teams host a game during their town’s own summer festival, and Cottage Grove’s happens to be one of the best.

But there was one thing different for the Buss family this weekend, though. It was the first Firemen’s Festival spent without their family patriarch. Clarence Buss passed away this past February.

Clarence Buss is a name synonymous with the Home Talent League and specifically Cottage Grove. From the age of 17 when he joined the Cottage Grove team as a player to age of 83 when he passed away, there hasn’t been a single year when Buss wasn’t somehow involved in the H.T.L.

After his playing days, Buss became the manager of the team. When he wasn’t on the field, he was the team’s business manager. And he would later join the league’s Board of Directors, a post which he held right onto the very end.

Daughter Becky Ilgin explains, “The very first thing he did when he was dying was resign due to health reasons. And that was in January.”

During the Saturday of the festival, the Buss family circled just outside the left field fence to reminisce about their father.

Each member of the family had their own favorite memory of their father. Becky remembers the family vacations their father would take them on to places like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. Daugher Carolyn Pohlman remembers the time she spent playing cards with him. Son Dennis remember the hours Dad hit him ground balls out in their front yard. And son Larry remembers preparing the baseball diamond for game after game with his father.

Grandson Scott Polman actually had the honor of playing during one of the nine Home Talent League titles Clarence Buss took part in. But Scott’s fondest memory of his grandfather was during the days after Clarence had retired from managing the team.

During the championship game of a National Baseball Congress tournament, Scott remembers, “Grandpa was actually standing behind the dugout rattling the fence because he wanted a pinch hitter to come in. I’ll never forget it. He was just hollerin’, shaking the fence hollering at the guy that was coaching then.

“At the time he wasn’t the coach, but he wanted to be.”

That story adds to the legacy that Clarence Buss would give to Cottage Grove baseball.

“For some people, it’s just Sundays,” said Scott speaking about the day Home Talent League teams traditionally play on. “For grandpa it was every day of the week …December first he’d be talking about baseball – who was playing next year, who wasn’t playing next year. He was always concerned about those teams. He cared about the league too, but this was his baby.”

As the family was talking, the current version of the Cottage Grove baseball team was beating Rio on the ballpark adjacent to them dedicated to their father, Clarence Buss Field. Only a day later it would be Clarence Buss Day at the Firemen’s Festival like it will be every Sunday during the festival from here on out.

That day would be Father’s Day, appropriately.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Waterloo at Marshall on Sunday June 22 for the annual Marshall Festival.

Photo caption: Cottage Grove warms up before their game against Rio during the town's 77th annual Firemen's Festival

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Too much water for Waterloo

Here's the view of Firemen's Park in Waterloo after last week's treacherous
rains. That's the scoreboard in the distance. I'll try to update the status of teams around the league as I get more information.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The tourney is tops in Fort Atkinson

This past Thursday and Friday marked the beginning of the annual Fort Atkinson tournament that spans three weeks and culminates with the championship game being played during the city’s yearly Baseball Festival.

If only the coaches would have known that Sunday’s Home Talent League slate of games would have been wiped out by rain.

Had they had the foresight to predict the stormy weather the weekend had in store, they could have gotten their staff aces some pitching work during the opening round of games.

The Fort Atkinson tournament is considered one of the best amateur tournaments in the area, and most teams have to alter their schedule just to fit it in.

According to Stoughton manager Jim Winter, “I consider the Fort tournament just like a Sunday game where every team that comes here usually plays their Sunday starters except for maybe their pitcher. They’ll use their No. 2 or 3.”

Stoughton was able to get by Jefferson in the first round in extra innings, so Blue Devils manager Jeff Laesch knows just how competitive this tournament can be not only against Stoughton, but against the host team as well.

When asked if thinks this tournament is taken more seriously than the usual Thursday Night games, Laesch replied, “I think so, obviously with the five mile distance between Jefferson and Fort. And we’ve always had good success down here. So I think we probably do. It’s usually your starters that are playing in this tournament because it’s a big thing. It’s big crowds, and everybody likes to play on that Friday night of Fort Fest.”

Even though Jefferson lost during the opening round, they’re still alive and still have a chance to compete during the desired Friday night slot of the Baseball Festival on June 20 through the consolation bracket.

As an added bonus, there’s even a stipend that goes along with becoming the first or second place finishers in the eight team tournament as well as the only team that makes it through the consolation bracket undefeated.

The coaches insist it’s not about the money, though. They’re just glad to be getting good competition in a competitive environment.

Laesch was representative of the rest of the coaches when he said, “Mainly it’s kind of a bragging rights type thing. And it’s always good to win this tournament. Everybody’s always played in it for years. So I don’t think the money has anything to do with it. To be honest, we’d come over to the concession stand and spend it.”

That’s part of what the Home Talent League is all about. There’s sort of a gentlemen’s agreement among visiting teams to help support the hosts. On any given day, you’ll see the visitors supporting the home team and socializing with their opponents after nearly every game.

And it’s hard to pass up the chance to play at Jones Park in Fort Atkinson as well. Known as one of the best ballparks in the Home Talent League, the opportunity to play up to three games on a well-manicured diamond is too much to pass up.

“We just love playing here,” said Winter. “It’s obviously the best field in our section. They take really good care of it, it’s a great environment … and they always get good crowds.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Cross Plains at Ashton on Sunday June 15 for the annual Ashton Picnic on Father's Day.

Brian Carriveau is writing a book about the Home Talent League this summer. He can be contacted at

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Has hell frozen over?

Word on the street is that Jefferson's Justin Thiede has been traded to Fort Atkinson for a fungo bat and a player to be named later.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tastes great, less filling

Dodgeville's Brandon Weier said he'd drink a beer for every one of pitcher Ryan Kussmaul's strikeouts. Not really. But we'd be proud of him if he did.

Dodgeville schools Ridgeway in annual Graduation Game

Chris Clerkin worked up a sweat acting as the bullpen catcher for the Dodgeville Knights on Saturday in a Home Talent League game that would count in the Sunday league standings.

And while Clerkin wouldn’t enter the game at Ridgeway on Saturday, he was the star of the show for friends and family less than 24 hours later when he strolled across the stage on Sunday to receive his diploma from Dodgeville High School.

Saturday marked the annual “Graduation Game” between Dodgeville and the Ridgeway Cardinals in a match-up of Western section of rivals that are separated by only about seven miles.

In a league that usually plays games on Sunday afternoons, these two teams annually agree to move this particular contest to the day before graduation due to both teams heavily drawing players from the same Dodgeville school district.

The two teams know that players, family and even fans are going to be attending the ceremony and ensuing graduation parties on Sunday. So rather than fight a losing battle, the game was moved to a mutually agreed up time the day before.

Clerkin, still young in regards to Home Talent, served a very particular role for the Knights in what would end up being a 4-3 win.

“(He) was our bullpen catcher today,” said Dodgeville manager Pat Reilly, “and would’ve caught if we had to go longer too.”

It turned out that Clerkin was nearly called upon as the game was tied 3-3 heading into the ninth. Luckily for Dodgeville, fellow graduating senior Danny Sullivan scored the winning run in the top half of the frame and the Knights would hang on to win.

Even though Dodgeville ended up winning this year’s version of the “Graduation Game,” each side has some favorite memories from the rivalry in years gone by.

“One year we 10-runned ‘em,” recalls Ridgeway manager Rich Hogan referencing the rule which calls for a game to end after only seven innings if a team is up by 10 or more runs. “That was the most memorable game. That was the biggest upset we’ve ever had with them. And then, of course, we went over there, and they beat us. But they tried to 10-run us and could only 9-run us. Other than that, they’ve always been like this. Real close.”

Reilly can remember another game between the adversaries that ended up in Ridgeway’s favor. And while Dodgeville didn’t end up winning, it remained memorable.

“There was one game here that we got beat in the 15th inning on a Saturday. We started at 3:00 because we had other things going on, graduation stuff going on. We played 15 innings before it was over.”

In a twist of irony, it was Dodgeville’s current first baseman Tony DeMuth’s father that ended up hitting the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the 15th that put Ridgeway on top.

“I guess that’s a memory,” laughed Reilly who probably didn’t find it funny at the time but can now look fondly back at the game years later. It, no doubt, helped that the junior DeMuth contributed to this year’s victory.

No matter which team has won the game throughout the years, the intensity has been as memorable as the contest.

“When I first started playing, the bleachers were full, the sides were full, people were standing all over,” said Dodgeville veteran center fielder Gary James. “It was just crazy here.”

And if there happens to be any more one run games decided in the last inning, it’s sure to get just as crazy in the future too.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Cambridge vs. Utica in the opening round of the annual Fort Atkinson tournament on Friday June 6.
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau