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.