Now that is the way to open a ballpark.
The Anoka Tornadoes began the new era of Castle Field April 10 with a 14-4 win in six innings over Osseo.
Anoka’s first-year coach Shannon Blansette didn’t know what to expect, given the team’s lack of practice reps on a baseball field in a new program. “I told our guys, ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if we lost 18-3 or won 18-3.’ I really, literally didn’t know what to expect. First time in a program so I had an idea of what we have but you can’t know for sure until you get outside.”
The season, Northwest Suburban Conference and Castle Field opener for the Tornadoes couldn’t have gone much better as senior Jason Brumbaugh blasted two home runs to highlight a 15-hit performance, which was backed up by Alex Glick’s pitching performance.
Anoka jumped on Osseo in the third inning scoring 11 runs on 10 hits. Brumbaugh’s three-run homer kept the momentum going as 12 batters came to the plate.
Senior Austin Gaspard was one of four batters with multiple hits, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs from the ninth position in the batting order.
Gaspard sparked the third-inning rally by fouling off seven pitches with two strikes before a base hit turned into 10 straight batters getting on in the inning.
“It’s a single in the book but the turning point of the game. It was a great at-bat,” Blansette said.
Brumbaugh launched both homers over the left centerfield fence going 3-for-3, drove in five runs, scored three times and was hit by a pitch.
“He’s a special player and there’s a different sound off the bat when he hits. The kid does a phenomenal job and he’s a hitter. I leave him alone and I’ll take a three-hit, two-home run, five-RBI game any day from anybody at any spot,” Blansette said, admitting Brumbaugh, who will attend Ashland College next season, is a batter he doesn’t offer much advice. “You get kids like that in your career as a coach who you let do what they do and the results are like today, two bombs.”
Brumbaugh said the whole team looked good and loose in the opener. “I got some good pitches and took advantage of it,” he said, after going without a home run as a junior but belted around nine home runs during the summer Legion season.
He wasn’t the only hot bat as nine teammates picked up hits including two hits by Austin Gaspard batting in ninth in the order, Alex Farley and Trevor Smith. Each scored twice and Smith drove in four runs.
“Spirits were up, everyone was off the bench yelling and that gave us the momentum and we took advantage of their mistakes and errors,” Brumbaugh said about the positive vibes from the dugout during the big third-inning.
Glick, a junior, gave up four earned runs on seven hits and one walk but struck out six batters in five innings of work. Sophomore Alex Pribyl gave up one hit but struck out three in the sixth inning to end the game.
Blansette said Glick has focused on control over velocity and it seemed to work with the lone walk coming in the fifth inning.
“It was a good first outing for him and after the fifth we decided to get some younger guys out there,” the Tornadoes coach said.
Anoka started two sophomores in Farley and Chase Thomas on the right side of the infield, second and first base.
Blansette said he’s watched the Tornadoes program from afar, living in the district for the last six years. He was an assistant at St. Anthony Village before taking over the head coaching position at Park Center for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
“This is where we wanted to be and it worked out to have a teaching and coaching position here. It was something I couldn’t say no to. It was really tough to walk away from the Park Center program, they’re ranked in the top 10 this year. They are in great hands with Brian Hronski, an assistant of mine.”
The five-member coaching staff in the Anoka dugout is an all-star group.
Once Blansette took over as coach, he’s made it a goal to streamline the Anoka baseball programs from the high school to summer baseball programs. To do that he brought on Legion baseball coach Dave Steinbring; Anoka’s all-time winningest coach (boys soccer and girls hockey head coach) Pete Hayes; Dave Harten to focus on batting and Bryan Bomstad to work with the infielders. Bomstad was an assistant at Blaine for many years and played at Duluth. Blansette will focus on the pitchers.
Harten gained Blansette’s respect his first year at Park Center. “I had great hitting charts on Anoka and by the second year they were useless because he had revamped everyone’s’ swing.”
“This is one of the most pleasurable games I’ve ever coached because I wasn’t worried about the little things because I had extra quality assistants,” Blansette said about a three or four to one ratio between coaches and players. “We made the decision if were going to have youngsters on our upper level we wanted the coaching there right away.”
Being the first high school game on the new location, Brumbaugh said the anxiety of the first at bat quickly dissipated after being hit by a pitch. Hopefully the team will continue to settle in and get comfortable with Castle Field hosting the Section 7AAA tournament in late May and early June.
“Coach expects us to go all the way and he pushed for Castle to host for a reason, so we could play here,” Brumbaugh said.
Jason Olson is at