It was an interesting summer to say the least for Mankato MoonDogs first-year manager Matt Wollenzin.
As another season of Northwoods League baseball comes to a close, the experience has officially come full-circle for the Lakewood, Colorado, native.
He started out as a player for the MoonDogs in 2013. He then spent three years on staff as an assistant coach, before being named manager prior to this season.
“It’s been an exhausting summer for sure,” Wollenzin said. “We’ve had about 60 guys in and out of here throughout the year. I’ve found myself spending up to 18 or 19 hours a day on MoonDogs stuff.”
When you’re spending that much time with ever-changing roster, something has to give somewhere. While balancing everything that goes into to being a Northwoods League manager hasn’t always been easy for Wollenzin, it’s something he’s learned to do as the season has progressed.
“The roster stuff certainly does take away from the coaching side of things, but you do get to build fantastic relationships through it,” Wollenzin said.
Wollenzin, who works as an assistant coach at Bethany Lutheran College during the school year, had mixed results on the field in his first summer as skipper.
The MoonDogs finished 36-36, putting them fourth in the Great Plains West division. However, a 21-15 second-half record, fueled by a six-game winning streak during the final two weeks of the season, had the team right in the thick of things at the end.
They finished in second place in the Great Plains West in the second half standings, 2 1/2 games behind St. Cloud.
“I really appreciate the effort all the different players have put in this season,” Wollenzin said. “The attitude has been fantastic.”
In a league where roster changes happen daily, continuity comes at a premium. Wollenzin stressed the importance of the multiple returning players featured on this summer’s squad.
Left-handed pitcher Brett Newberg wraped up his fourth summer in Mankato. He led the team with 67 innings pitched and 55 strikeouts, while also posting a 3.22 ERA.
Newberg, a Moline, Illinois, native and Austin Peay State graduate, will now head back home for a much needed foot surgery. Following his recovery, he will look to play independent ball.
“The city of Mankato has been so great to me; it’s a big reason why I’ve came back each year.” Newberg said. “I’ve made lifelong friends in my summers here.”
Along with the many teammates he’s had, Newberg has also developed close relationships with the members of his host family, the Meyers. He has stayed with parents Chris and Jodi Meyer, along with their three children, Griffin, Hayden and Megan, for each of his four summers in Mankato.
“I’ve gotten to see those kids grow up,” Newberg said. “They’re like brothers and sisters to me now.”
Shortstop Nick Novak will finish his second season in Mankato as the team’s leading hitter at .313, along with a team-high 20 stolen bases.
The Stillwater native will now head back to Angelo State University in Texas for his senior year. He hopes the development he’s seen over the past two summers helps lead to a pro contract after graduation.
“Playing 72 games in 76 days, you don’t find that anywhere else,” Novak said. “It’s a different kind of obsession playing in this league.”