By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Winsted Wildcats baseball fans will have another opportunity to cheer for their team when they serve as the grand marshals of the Winsted Winter Festival Christmas parade Saturday, Dec. 5 at 6:30.
The team was chosen by the Winsted Chamber of Commerce for its successful season as champions of the North Division of the Crow River Valley Baseball League, and placing fourth in the state Class C amateur league tournament for the second time in the last three years.
The Wildcats did not win the 2009 state championship, but came very close.
The team had won its first three games of the Class C state tournament.
Over the final weekend of the state tournament, the team went 1-2 over its next three games. Both of the games they lost by only one run.
The Wildcats’ overall record for the season was 27-14.
“I just want to say how proud I am of all the guys,” Wildcats business manager Denis Campbell said. “I was manager (coach) for 20 years, and I think we had 30 wins during all of that time.”
For co-managers Aaron Schultz and Neil Schlagel to predict the Wildcats would have a winning 2009 season would have been difficult to do.
When the season began, they were more concerned about having enough teammates to play ball.
“There was a little bit of a turnover, especially going into this year,” Schultz said. “We lost six or seven guys.”
“I was down to putting his dad (Chuck Schultz) on the roster to make sure if somebody got hurt we could put somebody out in the field and make sure we could finish the game, because we were that short of players,” Schlagel said.
Although the roster numbers were down for the first game of the year, by the second game there were more than enough players to play and the co-managers breathed a short sigh of relief.
Then, Joe Kley hurt his arm and couldn’t pitch.
“Joe was pitcher of the year in the league last year,” Schultz said.
Joe’s brother, Tony Kley came to the rescue. According to Schlagel, “Tony’s pitching really improved a lot this year.”
In fact, Tony Kley ended up being the 2009 Crow River Valley League’s most valuable player.
Schultz and Schlagel attribute the Wildcats’ past few seasons success to much better pitching and timely hitting in the playoffs.
“When we started getting pitchers like Dan LaMott and Tony (Kley) pitching for us dominating pitchers who were able to strike players out; that made the biggest difference,” Schlagel said.
Because the Wildcats have had two successful seasons in the last three years, they will move up to Section 8B, and a chance to play Class B baseball.
It is a rule set up by the state board a few years back which states any team finishing fourth place or higher two of three years in the Class C state tournament must move up to Class B for a minimum of two seasons, according to Schultz.
Being placed in Section 8B means the Wildcats will play both the Crow River Valley League (CRVL) and Class B teams in the North Star League.
The CRVL includes the teams of Watertown, New Germany, Glencoe, St. Boni, Mayer, Plato, Green Isle, Young America, Norwood, Hamburg, Carver, Cologne, and Brownton.
The Class B teams the Wildcats will play are Hamel, Plato, Hutchinson, Dassel-Cokato, Maple Lake, St. Michael and Delano.
There is definitely anticipation for this coming year by both managers, who view the next season as a challenge for their hitters.
“Some of our hitters are really going to have to step up because they are going to have a lot harder time adjusting to pitchers who are throwing a lot harder then we are used to,” Schlagel said.
To read about individual Wildcat players and their contributions to the team in 2009, see Sports Editor Aaron Schultz’s column in the Herald Journal dated Sept. 14.
The Wildcats baseball fans have added to the excitement of playing ball in Winsted, according to Schultz and Schlagel.
“Everybody that comes to Winsted expects a good crowd,” Schultz said. “It makes it a lot more fun to play.”
“It just sets the atmosphere,” Schlagel said. “I guess I have never played anywhere we haven’t had a consistent base of fans. We have had some good crowds.”
Amateur baseball is a big part of Winsted’s history. The Wildcats were even state champions in 1948 and 1950.
Many of today’s Wildcats players have grown up with amateur baseball as a family tradition.
Campbell, Schultz, and Schlagel were all influenced by their families’ participation in the game.
The Winsted baseball field was named after Denis “Soup” Campbell’s father Denis M. Campbell.
The way Soup tells it, the field should probably be called the Leona and Denis M. Campbell field because both of his parents were dedicated to the game of baseball.
Since 1948, Denis’ parents helped out at the games and Denis M. Campbell was one of three Wildcat players named to the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. The other two were Fran Kappel and Ken Norman.
According to Soup, he is just carrying on the tradition that his parents began.
“I do it (spend time at the field and as the Wildcats business manager) because that is how I grew up. That is what our family did every Sunday since I was a small kid.”
Amateur baseball in the Schultz family wasn’t much different.
Aaron’s dad, Chuck, played ball and was coach of the Wildcats team for several years before Aaron took over.
“I have been playing baseball for Winsted for half my life. I wouldn’t know what to do if I stopped. I guess I would have to go boating or start fishing,” Aaron Schultz said.
“I follow the Twins,” Aaron said, “but I am more likely to go to a New Germany/Watertown game than I am to go to watch the Twins play.”
Schlagel enjoys the small town games and the atmosphere, too.
“Baseball has been such a big part of my life,” Schlagel said. “I guess the main reason I still play is to hang out with the guys,” Schlagel said.
“I enjoy everything about the game, but after the game mostly,” Schlagel said.
Schlagel’s grandfather, Ken Norman, and his uncle, Dick Norman, were part of the Wildcats team while Schlagel grew up.
“When we were kids, my mom, Barb, went to all of the games and we went along with her,” Schlagel said.
Amateur baseball began in Winsted in 1935. At that time, Winsted was a member of the Dairy Belt League whose members included Lester Prairie, Lake Marion, Hamburg, and Plato.
The team’s name was the Warriors.
There was also a second Class B team known as Specs’ Wildcats. That team was organized and managed by Jerome “Specs” Campbell.
There were a few years in the early 1950s when Winsted did not have an amateur baseball team.
When organized ball came back to Winsted in the mid-1950s, the Warrior name was dropped and the team became the Wildcats.
The Wildcats joined the Crow River Valley League in 1972, after playing for a number of years in the Wright Star League.