Friday, March 28, 2008

Seeing the forest through the trees

If there's one thing that Jefferson Blue Devils manager Jeff Laesch has learned over his years of playing baseball, it's to appreciate the here and now.

It's a lesson he'll probably be passing on to his young players on the Jefferson team. Because there was a time when Laesch got caught up in the youthful exhuberance that so many kids do coming out of high school.

Jefferson won the Grand Championship back in 1990, Laesch's first year playing in the Home Talent League. And while that was fine and dandy, Laesch readily admits he probably didn't appreciate it like he should.

"It was amazing," explains Laesch, "but unfortunately when it’s your first year out of Legion, I was nineteen years old and probably don’t soak up all the excitement and enthusiasm that you should. You can take it for granted."

And who can blame him? At the time he was spending his springs playing for the University of Wisconsin baseball team back when they had a varsity program. And Big Ten baseball was a cut above Home Talent. It is probably not unlike the difference between Major League Baseball and the minor leagues.

But when Laesch won the Kendall Murray award for the league's outstanding pitcher after Jefferson had won the Grand Championship in 1990, things started to change a little bit. He started to understand the Home Talent League and his place in it a bit more intimately. A new found appreciation was gained.

"Unfortunately when it’s your first year in the league, you don’t know all the stories about individuals," said Laesch. "But then when I was told I won the award, and it goes to the best pitcher in Home Talent, it was an extreme honor at that point . But then when you get to the awards banquet ... you find out what kind of a player and a person (Murray) was, it kind of hits home a little more."

Laesch doen't think his experience was unusual in winning the Kendall Murray award. By his estimation, there's been a lot of players that don't realize what it is they're actually doing for the Home Talent League until they've had a chance to reflect on it.

"To see over the years going to all the banquets and seeing the young kids -- and usually it is young kids that win it because they’re the ones that keep this league going -- I think they’d probably all agree that until you get a little older you might not appreciate it as much because, like I said, it was my first year in the league and all these things came at once, and it’s been hard to get there again. You wish you could take it in a little more, but you do appreciate it."

Things have changed now. Laesch is beginning his second stint as manager for the Blue Devils and has had time to look back on the past. Prior to this season he had been working as the team's general manager the past couple years, and he's been pretty excited about the team's recent successes.

"When we made it back to the finals in 2004 and 2005, I was probably more excited running the team and everything than I was back when I was 19 years old and pitching at that time," said Laesch.

Just imagine how excited he would be if Jefferson made the Final Four now that he's managing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Making the switch

The recent bowling fund raiser for the Dodgeville Home Talent League team provided an opportunity for manager Pat Reilly and centerfielder Gary James to reminisce about the switch the league made to wood bats.

Home Talent used to be an aluminum bat league. More like college. Then they made the switch to wood bats in 2002. Now it's more like the pros.

James is enough of a veteran to have been around for the years both before and after the switch, and he thinks it's changed the way the game is played.

"A wood bat makes you a better ballplayer," said James. "It definitely does because you have to hit it in the sweet spot. Otherwise it doesn’t go.

"It makes the game more competitive. You don’t have games that are 20 to whatever."

Reilly seemed to remember a game in Cross Plains back during the aluminum bat days that had a final score somewhere in the ballpark of 38 to 36.

The games rarely, if at all, have scores in the thirties anymore, and that certainly would make a league more competitive and a change from the way the game used to be played.

In fact, the switch the league made to wood bats is a story in its own right.

"It’s funny because when we were talking about going to wood, we had a committee that was going to study it and then present it for the next year," explained Reilly. "Well, the committee said, 'Screw this. We wanna go this year.'"

Once the change had been made, it has been smooth sailing ever since. Well ... semi-smooth.

"They broke the hell out of them until they learned how to hit with them," said Reilly.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


The whole point of this site is to give you more information about the Home Talent League and the book I'll be writing about it.

The Home Talent League is an amateur baseball league in Wisconsin that thrives on players that grew up and live in their hometown. Ringers need not apply. Your mailing address has to be within six miles to play for that particular town. Either that or you've been granted special permission from every other nearby team telling you you're not wanted.

The book is going to be about the players, managers, fans and anybody else that makes the league what it is. Their stories will be told. Their triumphs and failures, wins and losses, and ups and downs will be chronicled throughout the 2008 season.

There is little more to the story as of right now. The '08 season is where it's at. I'll be traveling from burg to burg throughout the year to get to know some of the people that make the league go. And with 43 teams in the league, it's going to be quite a task.

Come back to read more about what's going on with the Home Talent League. The season starts soon, and when it does you'll be able to get more news about the book and other info about the H.T.L.