The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Chad Courrier

October 25, 2012

Courrier column: Former MoonDog has World Series rooting section in Mankato

In a normal year, there’s not much of a chance that Gary and Jean Noren, as well as other Mankato MoonDogs officials and host families, would join somewhere in late October to watch a World Series game on TV.

But when San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford plays in the game, local baseball fans take notice, and about 40 people showed up at the Wow Zone on Wednesday night to watch the MoonDogs’ alum play in Game 1 of the World Series.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Gary Noren, who hosted Crawford for the summer of 2005 when he played for the local Northwoods League team. “It’s unbelievable because you tend to put (professional athletes) on a pedestal, but then you find out they’re just normal guys. Brandon is the same kid that he was coming out of high school, just a normal kid.”

Crawford is the only high-school player ever signed by the Mankato franchise. He was heading to UCLA, and the MoonDogs had a good relationship with that school, which pointed him to the Midwest.

It’s easy to say now, but MoonDogs general manager Kyle Mrozek raved about Crawford after seeing him play just a few games.

“It takes a special player to succeed as a high-schooler in this league,” Mrozek said. “There was an adjustment period, but he didn’t let that bother him. When he started to blossom, you could see he had a heckuva future.”

Crawford batted .274 in 42

games that summer, stealing 17 bases without getting thrown out.

He then spent a few seasons in the minor leagues, and he played one summer with Team USA. The Noren family has made several trips to watch Crawford play. They’ve been to Connecticut, California and Illinois, and they went to see Crawford play at Cincinnati shortly after he made his major-league debut. They still stay in contact by text messages and emails.

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Chad Courrier