by Mark Lauer – [email protected]
There may be huge piles of snow on the ground yet, and we will quite possibly see plenty more before the winter season is finally over.
But as anyone who follows baseball knows, down in Florida and Arizona the boys of summer are back.
However, the Minnesota Twins are not the only local baseball team itching to get back on the diamond.
The St. Joseph amateur baseball team will soon return also, stretching throwing arms, loosening their batting strokes and giving fans in this town one more reason to look forward to spring and the beginning of the 2013 amateur baseball season.
To get the season underway, before any practices or actual games are scheduled, the team will hold its annual fish fry and silent auction fund-raising event on Friday, March 8 from 5- 8 p.m. at the El Paso Sports Bar and Grill.
The 2013 schedule has not been released yet (that won’t happen until sometime later this month) and the team’s roster is far from being finalized. But St. Joseph manager Pat Schneider does expect to have most of his 2012 team back this year. The Saints finished 10-5 last season, good for second place in their division of the Lakewood League.
“We’ll be a running team,” said Schneider. “Our team speed has improved quite a bit, and I expect some of our younger players are going to help out a lot.”
Schneider doesn’t expect this year’s team to be remembered for its home-run powerbut will make up for it with quickness and a solid defense.
“Just watching the young guys and how they develop as ballplayers is going to be a treat for the fans,” he added.
Last November, Schneider learned that the Minnesota Baseball Association state board, which oversees amateur baseball in Minnesota, wanted St. Joseph reclassified (bumped up) from Class C to Class B. In addition, the Sartell Muskies were also considered for reclassification.
“They (the MBA state board) wanted to create a larger Class B,” Schneider said in explaining the reason for the proposed move. “There were only 30 teams in Class B and they wanted 45. There just wasn’t a lot of parity in Class B.”
There are three classifications among the state’s 300 amateur teams. Class A is reserved for teams from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. There are only four Class A leagues in Minnesota.
Teams in Class B are generally from larger outstate towns or teams that have won the Class C championship. Their rosters generally feature a good number of college players, many of whom compete at the Division I or Division II level. Because of the extra college talent, the caliber of pitching is what separates Class B from Class C baseball, according to Schneider.
Class C is where the majority of Minnesota baseball teams compete. A Class C team cannot have any current college players on its roster, unless that player has an established residence in that town or within a 30-mile radius of the town. There are no current college players on the St. Joseph roster.
Schneider, along with other Class C managers in the Lakewood League, knew that their teams couldn’t compete in Class B. They made plans during the winter to fight reclassification.
At the January MBA meeting, Schneider went before the board and argued his team’s case for staying in Class C. At one point he told the state board that the five Class C teams (St. Joseph, Sartell, Clear Lake, Litchfield and Sauk Rapids Jimmy’s Hurricanes) were ready to break away from the Lakewood League and form their own “Class C only” league.
The final result is that the five Class C squads will form the renamed Sauk Valley League, while the four remaining Class B Lakewood teams (Sauk Rapids Cyclones, Cold Spring Springers, Brainerd Bees and St. Cloud Ultimate Snappers) would have their own division. The teams from the Sauk Valley League will play each other twice during the 2013 season and will have one game against each of the Lakewood League teams.
In addition to playing in a new-look league, this season St. Joseph will also go back to using its original nickname. The team will again be called the Joes, after being known as the Saints since 2000. The team will be wearing new uniforms and caps to go along with the name change.
Amateur baseball has been a part of life in St. Joseph since the early-1900s. St. Joseph’s original baseball field was located in the southeast end of town back then, but 70 years ago the Loso family donated land to the city on the west side and designated that property to be used for park and recreational use. That land is where Memorial Park, so-named in dedication to the soldiers of World War II, can be found today.
St. Joseph had two teams in the powerful Great Soo League back in the early 1900s, the Joes and the Saints. When the Great Soo League broke up in the mid-1960s, the original Sauk Valley League was formed, and the Joes became a charter member. The Joes were very successful during their time in the SVL, making regular appearances in region and state tournaments.
The baseball diamond is situated in a large bowl, flanked by Old US Highway 52 on one side and the Park Terrace neighborhood on the other. In 2002, the field was renamed Schneider Field in recognition of the many years the Don Schneider (Pat’s father) family has spent fostering amateur and youth baseball in town. Many improvements have been made to the playing field, the stands and concession area in recent years.
Last year a new scoreboard was put up behind the outfield fence. The funding for the new scoreboard came as a result of a large donation by Greg Reinhart, President of Sentry Bank, which also spawned other private donations and the efforts of the St. Joseph Park Board.
“We have had a long baseball tradition in this town,” says Schneider, “and we’ve been pretty successful and played some entertaining baseball for the most part. I hope the fans can support us.”