August 13, 2007

NSL's St. Michael disqualified from playoffs

By Matt Kane
Sports Editor

The Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) ruled Thursday that St. Michael, of the North Star League and Region 8B, is disqualified from the region and state playoffs, effective immediately.

The ruling came down after questions surfaced recently about St. Michael having used an illegal player during the regular season.

North Star League secretary Brian Larson explained that proper documentation for the residency of Mike Hoelscher, a first-year player with the Saints, was not available in May, after Hoelscher pitched St. Michael to a win over Kingston.

After filing his official release from Miltona prior to the season, Hoelscher claimed Otsego, which is about eight miles from St. Michael, as his residency. After Hoelscher pitched against Kingston, Larson said the North Star League decided to look into the pitcher’s contract.

“We figured somebody is going to question whether his residency is legal, so why don’t we get the paperwork,” Larson said Friday.

It turns out St. Michael manager Mike Freske could not present Larson the proper paperwork proving Hoelscher was legal to play for the Saints. Because of this Freske released Hoelscher from the St. Michael roster.

“I thought we were being proactive in handling this,” Freske said. “I even sat him for two weeks, and after a point I told him I don’t think you can play on our team anymore.

“In our minds, it was handled three months ago. In hindsight, if I would have known this was going to happen, I would have pushed the issue more then. It’s a lot more difficult to prove (Hoelscher is legal) now.”

Freske, who commented via telephone Friday just hours before he was to meet with his players, believed the problem was taken care of as soon as Hoelscher was released from his team back in May.

That wasn’t the case though, and Freske found out Thursday, just a day after St. Michael, the number one seed in Region 8B, defeated Hutchinson in the second week of the playoffs, that his team’s season was over.

Having thought the problem was taken care of months ago irks Freske, but so to does the timing of the decision, which came one day before St. Michael was to play second seed Dassel-Cokato for a berth in the state tournament.

“The timing of it seems suspect. The timing is troubling,” he said. “I think other issues played in as far as the timing.”

Larson said the timing has to do with when a protest is raised.

“The state book says if someone protests, that’s when (the board) kicks it into gear,” Larson said.

The timing seems strange but disqualifying a team near the end of the season is nothing knew.

In 1924, two teams were ruled ineligible for the first state tournament because they had illegal players.”

“I hate to say it, but this bad scenario has been with town team baseball since the beginning,” Larson said. “It’s kind of a yearly deal. There’s always players who are questionable. Come playoff time, when somebody gets beat by a good pitcher, hear a rumor and start checking.”

This is the first season a North Star League team has been ruled ineligible for the postseason.

More recently, just last season, at the June 17 board meeting, the MBA board ruled that Soderville would forfeit postseason play because they played Eric Scott, who did not have a contract with Soderville. Besides losing its postseason, Soderville was also fined $200 and put on one year probation. Scott was ruled ineligible for the rest of the 2006 season, and had to file for reinstatement if he were to play in 2007.

Freske said St. Michael will be on probation during the 2008 season and will have to file for reinstatement to be eligible for postseason play. Hoelscher will be ineligible for the 2008 season.

Freske was told Wednesday afternoon, before St. Michael defeated Hutchinson 9-1, that the state board was holding a special session Thursday night. Freske knew the possible outcome going into the game, but didn’t break the news to his Saints players until Thursday night when the ruling became official at the meeting, which he attended.

“I didn’t have much time for long discussions, because I had to call 20 guys,” Freske said. “Everybody’s reaction has been the same. The are frustrated and disappointed. Shocked is the word.”

Freske has not talked to Hoelscher about the situation.

Freske said he feels bad for everyone associated with St. Michael baseball, and accepts responsibility for what happened.

“In the end, the responsibility is mine. Now, I have to deal with the players, and look them in the eye,” he said Friday, hours before St. Michael was to play Dassel-Cokato. “I apologize to the players, the league, the managers and to the fans. A lot of people were looking forward to a good game tonight.”

Because St. Michael was unable to play, Dassel-Cokato was awarded the win, which came with the state tournament berth. Dassel-Cokato played the winner of the Hutchinson/Hamel game, which was played Saturday, Sunday to decide seedings for the state tournament.

Ultimately, the confusion surrounding Hoelscher did affect two teams, and could have affected one more.

After he was released from St. Michael, Hoelscher signed on and played the rest of the season with St. Cloud Orthopedic of the Lakewood League. As is the case with St. Michael, Orthopedic was ruled ineligible for the Region 10C playoffs. After Orthopedic was eliminated from the playoffs, Hoelscher was drafted by the Granite City Grays. The Grays were eliminated from the double elimination 10C playoffs Aug. 5 when they lost to Sartell. Granite City’s first playoff loss came Aug. 4 to Sauk Rapids, with Hoelscher on the mound.

Larson believes if Granite City would have advanced to the next round, it would have still been eligible, but Hoelscher would not have been able to pitch.

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