Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day migraine

Memorial Day is usually the first time of the season where a team really has a chance to prove its mettle.

It’s one of the few times all year when a team will have to double up likely on both Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend.

Anyone who follows Home Talent League baseball knows that there’s both a Sunday day league and a Thursday night league, but it’s the Sunday games that really count.

Each team’s staff ace usually takes the mound on Sunday except for the holiday weekends centered around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. In order to complete the league schedule, the games played on these two holidays count towards the Sunday league standings.

Teams will need a secondary starter to fill those holiday games, and it’s those games that could decide who will win their section.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to maybe having another double up weekend because it really shows more of the depth that some teams have,” said Columbus manager Juan Guerrero. “You get to face some of the first and second tier pitchers instead of having a team ride one pitcher.”

Depth is exactly what will be needed in order to get through the weekend unscathed. In order to go 2-0 on Memorial Day weekend, teams will have to get a good performance from their No. 2 starter, not an easy task to do.

Pine Bluff knows the situation all too well. They rode their ace Justin Lambert to a complete game victory over Black Earth on Memorial Day, but they lost a tough game the day before to Plain when Brandon Carlin took the mound.

“(Carlin’s) from Mount Horeb, but he goes to school in LaCrosse so he just got done with college,” explains manager Jerome Krantz. “So he just came back last week.”

Many Home Talent League teams face the same problem. They’re short handed early in the season until a couple of their players get home from college for the summer. And then, like in the case of Carlin, they’re expected to pitch critical games on very little preparation.

Sauk Prairie takes the stance of having their staff ace pitch the first game of a double up weekend no matter who they’re playing according to playing manager Trent Sorg.

And it’s not as if Sorg is too proud to stray from that strategy. In addition to being Sauk Prairie’s manager, he’s also their No. 2 starting pitcher. Sorg gave the ball to Paul Lerenz on the first game of the weekend in a victory over Ashton. Lorenz ended up going all nine innings while striking out seven and issuing only one walk.

“On a double up weekend we usually play game to game,” said Sorg. “The first one comes, and that’s the one we shoot for. We play each game one at a time. We try not to look ahead too far. Paul’s our ace. He threw tonight because that was our first game. I’m probably going to throw the game Monday, but you have to play the game that’s in front of you and not look down the road.

“Anybody can beat anybody on any given day so that’s kind of how we look at it. You don’t want to look by anybody.”

Reedsburg, meanwhile, got a break. The Pirates had to play on Sunday with staff ace Jeremy Horkan who got them a complete game 8-2 victory over Middleton.

Lucky for them, their bye came on Memorial Day due to an odd amount of teams in the Northern section. And it’s not as if there’s a huge drop-off from their No.1 to their No. 2 starter, but, regardless, Reedsburg would have been without their No. 2 man if they had to play on Monday.

Their secondary pitcher is Steve Hedgepath who was understandably busy while suiting up for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater while competing in the NCAA Division III College World Series over the weekend.

So while some teams are struggling to stay afloat over Memorial Day weekend, Reedsburg has a 3-0 record in the Northern section of the Home Talent League. And they get Hedgepath back soon. That’s good news for Reedsburg and bad news for the rest of the H.T.L.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Lake Mills at Jefferson on Sunday June 1st

Photo: Middleton and Reedsburg stand at attention during the national anthem during Memorial Day weekend.

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, May 19, 2008

Where's the pot of gold?

In a game that featured three rain showers in a weather shortened five inning game, it was mostly rain for Waterloo, but it was rainbows for Monona.

Monona beat Waterloo 14-5 to improve to 2-0 in the Eastern section of the Home Talent League.

A Norse victory

Friday marked the first of many important festival games on the Home Talent League schedule as Stoughton hosted rival Utica during the town’s annual Syttende Mai celebration.

The baseball game was just one of several events taking place in the Madison suburb that celebrates the Norweigan Constitution Day every year on the weekend closest to the seventeenth of May. And that’s exactly what “Syttende Mai” translates into in English, the seventeenth of May.

In fact, just about the time Stoughton was finished taking their pre-game infield practice before the game, the Norse Canoe Race was taking place downtown in Stoughton’s Division Street Park.

People would be crowded on the banks of the Yahara River to cheer on the convoy of canoes just about to prepare for the portage portion of the race.

When he was a little bit younger, Stoughton’s Scott Muehlemann was one of crazies taking part in the canoe race. Now he’s manning second base for the Merchants.

“I remember being in the canoe race one year with a friend of mine,” said Muehlemann. “That was in eighth grade. Now, unfortunately, I live out of town so I don’t get a chance to live it up too much.”

Syttende Mai is the major social event of the year in Stoughton. Almost everyone in town seems to participate in the pageantry somehow. For some it’s braving the cool spring waters on a canoe. For others is taking part in a Rosemaling exhibition. Even the youngsters get involved.

“I remember being in it when I was really, really young,” recalls Muehlemann. “They dressed me up in some Norweigan outfit even though I’m German. And they threw me out there in the parade one year.”

Nowadays Muehlemann is doing his best just trying to beat Utica, the opposing team every year during Syttende Mai weekend.

For the sake of comparison, it’s kind of like Green Bay versus Minnesota in professional football. Except Stoughton are the Vikings, naturally.

“Most of (Utica’s) players are from Stoughton, too,” explains Stoughton manager Jim Winter. “So there’s a natural built-in competitiveness. We play them here, and then we play them at their festival, Utica Fest, which is the first weekend in August, which is the last regular season game of the year.”

Stoughton catcher Marc Movrich has seen the game from both dugouts. He played for Utica for seven years, but after moving away from the area and since moving back, he’s joined his hometown Stoughton Merchants.

“I’ve been playing in the Syttende Mai game either when I’ve been playing for Stoughton or Utica since I was a junior in high school,” explains Movrich. “It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s definitely I think one of the bigger rivalries in Home Talent between the Stoughton and Utica teams.”

However, it’s been a rivalry that hasn’t meant much for the Merchants lately.

“This is my seventh year coaching, and we’ve only beaten Utica once on Syttende Mai,” explains Winter. “And it wasn’t actually on Syttende Mai night. It was a rain out makeup where we beat them. So we’ve always struggled in this game.”

But Friday was different. Behind both the pitching and hitting of former Wiota standout Ryan Van Haden (pictured), the Merchants were able to down Utica 12-8.

Van Haden went six strong innings for Stoughton while notching four strikeouts and earning the win. He was just as effective at the plate going three for four with two doubles. Two of those three hits banged off the outfield fence.

Performances like that just might make Stoughton a tough team to beat when they play the return game at the Utica Festival when a playoff berth could be on the line. But no matter what happens, they can take solace in the 2008 Syttende Mai victory.

“We always tend to get really tense, really tight in this game,” said Winter. “So yeah, to win this game is very important.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Deerfield at Evansville on Memorial Day. Free hot dog and soda for the first 500 fans!
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dodgeville pitcher gets pro attention

In just a matter of weeks, Dodgeville pitching phenom Danny Sullivan will be transitioning from high school baseball to facing some of the best adult amateur players in the area in the Home Talent League.

That’s merely a hop compared to the quantum leap he could be making if he gets selected in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. Sullivan is being courted by several MLB teams, and it’s possible he could be a mid-round draft choice when the draft gets underway on June 5th.

“Right now I’ve been talking to some pro scouts, and they’ve been coming to a couple games,” said Sullivan. “The draft is in early June, so I’m just waiting to see what happens there.”

The Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds are among the teams that have scouted Sullivan and could possibly draft him.

But even if the Brewers, just for example, draft Sullivan, it doesn’t mean he’ll be sitting in the dugout next to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun anytime soon.

It’s not quite as simple as that. The baseball draft doesn’t exactly resemble that of the more popular drafts for the NFL or the NBA.

The players who get drafted in the NFL are superstars well before they get to the professional game. They’ve made a name for themselves playing college football. And football has a rule where athletes have to be at least three years out of high school before they get drafted.

In the past, teams in the NBA were allowed to draft kids just out of high school. Now they have to be at least one year removed. And with only two rounds in the NBA draft, only about 60 some players get drafted at all.

Baseball is a different beast altogether. First of all, there are 50 rounds. It’s a necessity that teams stock their multiple minor league farm teams with good, young talent. Even relatively obscure high school players who aren’t well known outside their conference get drafted with regularity.

But if a player like Sullivan gets drafted, there’s no guarantee he’s going to sign a contract with any team that drafts him.

Only if he gets an offer he can’t refuse, will Sullivan sign on with a Major League team. In fact, Danny has a backup plan.

“He definitely is going to go to Hill College and play,” explains father Bob Sullivan.

Hill College is a two year junior college located in Texas, where Danny plans to matriculate this fall. And that suits him just fine.

In both football and basketball, junior college is seen as a place where maybe an athlete can’t cut it at the Division I level, but that’s not the case with baseball.

At a four year institution, a player might be asked to sit the bench while he develops in an effort to contribute his junior and senior years. At a two year school, an athlete will play right away. There’s no time to wait.

“The coach is the main reason I’m going there,” said Danny. “His philosophy is to gain three to five miles per hour within your first year. And down south, there’s the University of Texas, there’s Baylor, there’s Texas Tech. You’ve got your big schools, and a lot of scouts are down in Texas. There’s areas where the Yankees come and watch you, and big time teams come and watch you.”

Danny estimates he’s already throwing somewhere in the range of an 89 to 91 mph fastball. Add three to five mph to that, and his arm will be major league ready.

If Danny does happen to get drafted, he may decline the opportunity in hopes that he will be an even higher draft choice in the future. In baseball, it’s not uncommon to be drafted two years in a row.

Players enrolled in a two year college can be drafted in either their first or second year, while players enrolled in four year schools can’t be drafted until after their junior year. That’s just another reason Danny and his family has made the choices they’ve made.

In the meantime, Danny will be focusing on finishing his senior year of high school in both the classroom and on the ball diamond. The Home Talent League is on the horizon this summer, and the unknown is beyond that.

“I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen,” said Danny.

This weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Utica at Stoughton on Friday May 16 at 7:00 for the Norwegian Syttende Mai Festival

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

No-no deserves a thumbs up

Argyle started off their season in dramatic fashion with a no-hitter.

Ben Wallace and Jarret Baumann combined to no hit Blanchardville and strike out 15 batters in what would lead to a 3-0 victory.

Wallace started the game and went five innings, where going the distance would be a daunting task so early in the season. Baumann came in relief and got the save to preserve the no-no.

The performance deserves two thumbs up. One for Ben, and one for Jarret. Congrats, guys!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monona's bats come alive

Defending Home Talent League champion Monona had to wait a week to get its season underway, but the week off didn’t seem to hurt. They got past Rio on Sunday by a score of 12-2.

The rest of the Eastern section got their season underway seven days earlier, but Monona was forced to postpone their game at Waterloo due to a wet field with the diamond being so close to the Maunesha River. Thus, their opening day was pushed back to May 4th.

Being the defending champions and with several players back, Monona is sure to be a favorite once again. They don’t figure to have many weaknesses in their game, but if their performance in an exhibition tournament in Fort Atkinson in mid-April was any indication, scoring runs might be an issue.

Monona lost both games that weekend by a combined score of 14-4. They lost to host Fort Atkinson in the opening game 5-4, although they took a 5-0 deficit into the last inning. And in the consolation game they lost 9-0 to Middleton. Not exactly the type of production you’d expect from the last year’s grand champions. And not exactly the type of performance you’d want to carry into the regular season.

Now that the games count, forget any concerns about scoring runs. Veteran Monona manager Greg Strangstalien explains there was a good reason the team didn’t put many tallies on the board in the pre-season. Up to five guys who would be regularly in the lineup were missing at some point that weekend. Three of them were still in the midst of their season playing for Edgewood College in Madison.

“We know that while they’re at college, they’re swinging the bat,” said Strangstalien. “So once they come back, they’re going to be in mid-season form. It’s just the other guys that haven’t played as much, they know they have to pick it up.”

And pick it up they did. With the game complete after seven innings because of a 10 run lead, Monona put up plenty of runs highlighted by homeruns by both third baseman Alex Bauer and catcher Shawn Burcum.

And once some of those missing players return that Strangstalien hinted at earlier, the lineup should have even more potency. And it won’t take that long. On the same day that Monona started their season, Edgewood College ended theirs.

Edgewood failed to qualify for the Northern Athletics Conference playoffs, which means that Dan “Boomer” Gugel will be eligible to play next week for Monona. Gugel was the Eastern section’s leading hitter a season ago with a .467 batting average.

So while Strangstalien was, no doubt, rooting for some of his collegiate players to succeed, you can’t blame him if there was some small part of him that didn’t see it as a total loss.

“This is a different team,” said Strangstalien after the victory over Rio. “We have most of our starters. We’re still missing one, but most of our starters are here today. And these guys have been around long enough that when it’s time to play, they’re ready to play.”

The offensive jolt was certainly a welcome addition for starting pitcher Zac Najacht.

“It’s great to come out the first game and see the guys hit the ball like that, definitely,” said Najacht. “It’s nice to jump on a team in the first inning when you’re pitching, and it feels good to get some run support right away.”

As last year’s playoff co-MVP as a pitcher, Najacht knows a thing or two about run support. And he’ll be jonesing for more of it as the season goes along.

Pictured: Third baseman Alex Bauer is congratulated after his homerun

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau