by Chris Walden
A new season of baseball is upon us, and that means another exciting season of Metro Minny action. There were many changes to the league in the offseason including team additions and losses, and a consolidation into one class.
The Minnesota Baseball Association’s board of directors voted to promote the Anoka Bucs, St. Francis Saints, Champlin LoGators, Forest Lake Brewers and Big Lake Whitecaps during the offseason, joining the Blaine Fusion, Coon Rapids Redbirds and East Bethel Bandits in Class B.
The two remaining Class C teams, the Rum River Bandits and Ham Lake Knights, left Metro Minny to join Eastern Minny. With all movement finished, all Metro Minny teams will compete as Class B.
Two new teams will be joining this season, the Hamel Hawks return after a year off and the defending Class C Champion Isanti Redbirds, who were also promoted to Class B. These additions should make Metro Minny very exciting, with no easy wins on anyone’s schedule.
“When you add them to an already very tough league,” said Jeff Lindstrom, manager of the Coon Rapids Redbirds, “it makes the Metro Minny one of, if not, the toughest leagues in the state from top to bottom.”
The move to Class B has little effect on league play since they would play each other anyway. The difference will come in postseason play at MBA’s sectionals and state tournament where battle-hardened Metro Minny teams could make deep playoff runs.
For sectionals, the league will be divided in two, with Isanti, Big Lake, Forest Lake, Champlin, Anoka and St. Francis in section 2 and Blaine, Coon Rapids, East Bethel and Hamel going to section 8.
Two teams from each section will advance to super sections, which will be played during the first weekend of the Class C state tournament.
Isanti’s run to the Class C title was filled with excellent games, including an epic 10-inning, 2-1 win against Sacred Heart which was scoreless through nine. Big Lake also had a great season, finishing fourth in the Class C state tournament.
Coon Rapids Redbirds
The Redbirds are the reigning Metro Minny (Red) champions, and are looking to extend their streak excellence. The ‘Birds finished 14-4 in league games and have won or shared five straight Metro Minny titles. Success is a habit for the Redbirds, and there is no reason to believe the upcoming season will be different.
In addition to their strong league schedule, the Redbirds will play tough non-league opponents including the Dundas Dukes, Burnsville Bobcats and Shakopee Indians. They will also play a few Class A metro teams including the Bloomington Bandits and last year’s state runner-up Lyon’s Pub Warriors.
Pitcher Joe Axelson (Spring Lake Park High School, North Dakota State University) is a redshirt freshman for the Bison and will pitch for the ‘Birds to stay in the game. Karl Sorenson (Maple Grove High School, St. Cloud State University) comes to the Redbirds after leading the Maple Grove Crimson on a deep run in the state 3AAA tourney.
Pitcher Steve Schroer (Coon Rapids High School, University of Souix Falls) re-joins after a year pitching in California.
Coon Rapids season begins May 18, when the Redbirds host the Class A Minneapolis Angels.
Key losses: Ryan Stoll (Park Center High School, St Cloud State) is a long time Redbird, who hit .350 last season. Ben Keller (Andover High School, Minnesota State University, Mankato) is a utility player whose versatility will be missed.
New players: Steve Schroer, Ryan Stoll, Joe Axelson. Zach Kiminski
Returners: Dan Skog, Adam Wedwick, Jake Poehler, Craig Henry, Jake Paulson, Kevin Johnson, Aaron Lindstrom, Mike Loberg, Taylor Nelson, Doug Groebner, Tyler Stein, Pat Steinbring, Zach Sather, Andrew Dreissen, Cody Beam, Kyle Moody and Kyle O’Shea.
East Bethel Bandits
The Bandits hope to improve upon last year’s 8-10 league record by mixing top returning players with a bit of new talent. Big hitters Mitch Minning and Ben Crotty return, as do three solid starting pitchers in Erik Zentzis, Jeff Amann and Steve Jelmberg.
Veteran Matt Topeff returns after playing last season with the Blaine Fusion, adding a .312 average and 31 RBI to the lineup. Mike Dykema and Alek Zentzis add some youthful legs to the lineup.
Equally important is the addition of Matt Zentzis to the coaching staff, whom manager Dallas Jelmberg calls “a proven coach with a vast knowledge of the game.”
The Bandits’ season begins on April 22 when they visit the Champlin LoGators.
Key Losses: none.
New Players: Mike Dykema, Alek Zentzis, Andrew Tarsar, Matt Topeff.
Returners: Erik Zentzis, Steve Jelmberg, Sean Gough, Jeff Amann, Mitch Minnig, Ben Crotty, Alex Hanson, Josh Kosel, Tyler Marcio, Grant Larson, Andrew “ Goose” Gazich, Matt “Buck” Micheals and Josh Hintz.
St. Francis Saints
The Saints have welcomed in the early spring as well as the jump to Class B. This the second year for this incarnation of the team and players are looking to improve upon last year’s 11-7 record.
St. Francis’ offense is anchored by team MVP Luke Kangas, who hit safely in all but three games last season and finished with a .412 batting average, scored 30 runs and hit 24 RBI.
Luke Grow added a team-leading 25 RBI with a .373 average. Player/co-manager Chris Carpenter hit .413 in part time work, but co-manager Jim Johnson joked “a few of his hits were generous singles.”
Carpenter’s best work is as a relief pitcher, sporting a 1.59 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 28.1 innings. Ben Mortenson (5-1, 1.79 ERA) returns to anchor the starting lineup.
Johnson was excited about new pitcher Jacob Draeger.
“He’s gonna be good, will probably be one of our top pitchers. He has a chance to make the St. Paul Saints roster at their open tryout,” Johnson said.
St. Francis’ season begins Sunday, April 22 when the Saints host the Rockford River Bandits at 2 p.m.
New Players: Pitcher Jacob Draeger (St. Francis High School), infielder/outfielder Sam Smith, catcher Travis Nietz (St. Francis High School), pitcher Travis Elwood, shortstop Tony Remund.
Returners: infielder/catcher Luther Kangos, Luke Grow, outfielder Derek Williamson, infielder/outfielder Jim Johnson, pitcher Ben Mortenson, outfielder/pitcher Travis Fisher, pitcher Chris Carpenter, pitcher Dan Norrbohm.
Editor’s note: Part 2 of Walden’s Town Ball Preview will appear in the April 27 sports section of ABC Newspapers.
Chris Walden is founder of and constant contributor to cheapseatsmn.com