By Aaron Schultz
HOWARD LAKE, MN Year-in and year-out, the Howard Lake Orphans are not only one of the top teams in the North Star League, but they consistently make the Class C state tournament.
Under the leadership of manager Mike Gagnon, the Orphans have advanced to the Class C state tournament four times this decade, including the past three seasons.
A big reason for that success has been their pitching, which has been led by Jake Streich and Shane Heber, two of the best pitchers in the NSL.
But behind the two-headed monster of Heber and Streich, the Orphans have plenty of depth on the mound, as well, with the likes of Adam Koch, Andy Gagnon, and Ben Borrell, just to name a few.
Besides the fact the Orphans have plenty of quality arms on the mound, they also boast a very good defense.
Strong pitching and good defense are the ingredients for any baseball team to succeed, and the Orphans have that.
Their infield of Tim Sonnek, Jesse Berg, and Luke Gagnon is as good as there is in the NSL, and they all can hit, too.
Traditionally, if Howard Lake was lacking one aspect on the field, it would be their offense.
However, that has turned around in recent years, and now the Orphans’ bats are no longer a liability, but a solid strength.
John Stueven, Luke Gagnon, Andy Gagnon, Borrell, Adam Koch, and Aaron DeMarais are all quality hitters, and the Orphans have some solid depth along with them.
Looking at the Orphans, it isn’t hard to imagine them making a fourth consecutive state tournament appearance this season, and they are off to a good start.
After dropping a tough season opener at Kimball, the Orphans have bounced back to beat a pair of NSL Class B opponents (Dassel-Cokato and Maple Lake) to open their league schedule.
Howard Lake was in action Friday at Winsted, and then hosted Delano Sunday.
This week, the Orphans will finally see action against some Class C NSL opponents when they travel to Monticello Friday, May 22, and are back at Memorial Park in Howard Lake Sunday, May 24 to host Elk River.
That strong Orphan baseball tradition looks like it is here to stay.
Mitchell headed into NSL Hall of Fame
The Orphans received some very good news this off-season, that a member of the Howard Lake baseball family would be inducted into the North Star League Hall of Fame this summer.
That key member of the Orphans is Mike Mitchell, who will be honored and inducted into the hall of fame prior to Howard Lake’s game against Rockford Sunday, June 7.
During the late 1950s, Mitchell was an outstanding athlete at Howard Lake High School, which is when his father, Don Mitchell, was a popular manager of the Orphans.
However, Mitchell’s key contributions to the Orphans started in 1995, when the team was restarted.
Since that time, Mitchell has been a key cog in the Orphans’ success, and has been instrumental in park maintenance and numerous other facets of the Orphans organization.
This is a very well-deserved honor for Mitchell.
Field improvements looking good
Memorial Park in Howard Lake, the Orphans’ home field, has been getting a face-lift for what seems like an eternity.
In fact, the Orphans just continue to make improvements, and have Memorial Park shaping up to be one of the top parks in the NSL and the area.
This past year, a new backstop and brand new dugouts have been put in, and they look great.
The experience for the fans just keeps getting better with every improvement made at Memorial Park.
Get down to Memorial Park and check out an Orphan game, and a top of the line local baseball field.
Fun committee takes shape in 2009
Throughout the years there have always been fun activities taking place at Orphan home games, but that might get to a new level this year.
The Orphans have formed a Fun Committee, with Patti Barth as the chairperson.
The committee currently consists of Al and DeDe Doering, Dan and Collene Fogarty, Mike and Wanda Gagnon, John and Laurie Lideen, Steve Berg, Mary Streich, and Patti Barth.
“We are always looking for new members,” Barth said.
One thing the committee has set up are events in the middle of the third, fifth, and seventh innings.
The activities will rotate between get dressed for the game; beat the old mat to third; and race the bases.
There will be three different age groups (kids up to 12, young adults 13-20, and adults over 21), and fans sign up when they enter the game.
Additionally, kids 6 to 12 years old can sign up to be the designated bat boy/bat girl for the next Orphans home game.
Also, later in the year, an Orphans’ mascot will be chosen for the playoffs.
An already fun time at Memorial Park will get even better this year.
Once again, the Howard Lake Orphans will host its annual Good Neighbor Days Tournament Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27.
The tournament will open up Friday, June 26 with Atwater playing Kimball at 6 p.m., followed by the Orphans battling the Winsted Wildcats at 8:15 p.m.
Following the Orphan/Wildcat game, there will be fireworks over Howard Lake.
The third-place game will be Saturday, June 27 at 6 p.m., followed by the championship game at 8:15 p.m.