Monday, May 19, 2008

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

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