Six years ago, when Dalton Hinsch was 13 years old, his family decided to host a Mankato MoonDogs player for the summer for the first time. It was a thrill for a baseball-crazy kid.
“Obviously, a lot of them were Division I athletes,” said Hinsch, who went to almost every MoonDogs home game that summer. “You looked up to them. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the best players in the world!’”
The first player to live with the Hinsch family was Matt Wollenzin. On Sunday, Wollenzin finished his first season managing the MoonDogs.
With a depleted pitching staff and his team one day removed from being eliminated from Northwoods League playoff contention after an impressive late-season push, Wollenzin turned to an old friend for an extra arm: Hinsch.
“We hang out quite a bit,” Hinsch said of Wollenzin, who lived with the family a second time, during one of his three seasons as a MoonDogs assistant. “He’d been losing pitchers left and right all year. I was kind of joking with him to keep me in the back of his mind.”
Hinsch got the call on Saturday night via text: On Sunday, he was going to be a MoonDog.
Hinsch played baseball at Mankato West and is currently on the club team at the University of Northern Iowa, where he will be a sophomore this fall. This summer, he pitched for the first-year St. Clair Wood Ducks in the 13/60 town-ball league.
Despite all of that experience, Hinsch said Sunday’s game at Franklin Rogers Park felt different.
“When I was jogging out to the mound, it was the most nervous I’ve ever been for something,” said the right-hander, who had several friends and family members cheering for him in the stands.
Hinsch went out for the eighth inning after a six-inning outing by starter Eric Newman and an inning of relief from Damon Maynard. The MoonDogs were leading the Rochester Honkers 8-5.
Facing Aaron Simmons of Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Hinsch threw one pitch, a ball. Then he threw a second, an 82 mph fastball “right at his knees.”
“I didn’t think it was too bad a pitch,” Hinsch said with a laugh. “I guess he thought it was pretty good, too, because he hit it off the scoreboard. ...
“The second he hit it, I thought, ‘Oh crap. He hit that ball really good.’ I didn’t really look; I just heard it hit the scoreboard.”
The Honkers’ big bats were coming up next, but Hinsch did what good pitchers are supposed to do after giving up a home run: He put it out of his mind and settled down.
He got the next batter to ground out to second; walked the next guy, who was then caught stealing for the second out; gave up a double; and got another 4-3 grounder for out No. 3. He threw 18 pitches in his one inning of work, 10 for strikes. Mankato went on to win the season finale 10-6.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” said Hinsch, who will begin fall practice at Northern Iowa in a couple of weeks.
Will it be his first and last in the Northwoods League?
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I hope to get my pitching speed up a bit, so we’ll see what happens. If they need another arm again, I’ll be ready to go.”
Shane Frederick is The Free Press sports editor. Call him at 507-344-6373 or email him at email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @puckato.