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.

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