By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
— 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.
This season, Crawford has established himself as the Giants’ shortstop, batting .248 in 143 games.
In the Series opener, he was 0 for 4 but didn’t make any errors in the Giants’ 8-3 victory.
And Mankato celebrated.
Curtis Granderson played in the 2006 World Series with Detroit, but that team lost to St. Louis in five games.
If the Giants win this Series, Crawford will become the first MoonDogs player to win a ring. You could see seven years ago that he was an elite player, but there have been other outstanding players to come through the MoonDogs’ organization.
It’s crazy to see them on TV, playing for baseball’s biggest team prize.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at email@example.com, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.