In the land of seemingly 10,000 amateur baseball teams, a new one has splashed down in south-central Minnesota this season.
Mike Anderson played town baseball in his hometown of St. Mathias near Brainerd and later for several years locally in Cleveland. The 39-year-old St. Clair resident hoped his son and his friends might have a similar experience after their high school playing days ended.
So Anderson started a new town team this summer, the St. Clair Wood Ducks, which plays in the Minnesota Baseball Association’s 13/60 league.
The team is made up mostly of college-age players from St. Clair and Mankato. Going into Thursday night’s doubleheader against the Wells Wildcats at Wolverton Field in Mankato, the Wood Ducks were 9-6.
“It’s been fun to create baseball opportunities for some of the kids I’ve watched growing up,” said Anderson, who has coached youth and high school baseball. “And it’s fun to see them as adults playing.”
Anderson manages the Wood Ducks and is on the roster, although hasn’t played this season and doesn’t necessarily plan to, letting the youngsters have most of the fun.
Coaching third base is all the fun he needs.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve got a group of guys who have meshed together really well.”
Anderson’s son, Ben, is a catcher for the Wood Ducks. A recent St. Clair graduate, he will play baseball at Bethany Lutheran College starting next year, along with Wood Ducks teammate Ben Hopper.
The younger Anderson said he’s happy to be starting his own town-ball tradition with a new generation of players.
“Some of my best friends are on the team, and it’s great that we’re able to keep playing,” he said. “Me, Nate (Phinney) and Ben (Hopper) have been playing baseball together since we were 10. It fun to be able to continue that. I’m very thankful that my dad got this going. I’ll be able to play as long as I want, as long as I’m here.”
Phinney and Hopper graduated from Mankato West in June. Older West graduates include Ben Heichel, who plays baseball at Southwest Minnesota State, and Eric Carpenter, who plays at Gustavus Adolphus. Mankato East grad Drew Quame played four years at Bethany, and St. Clair’s Brandon Schultz plays at Mary.
For others, town ball is the last chance to keep playing.
“It’s a good mix,” said Mike Anderson, who was an assistant coach for St. Clair High School the last two springs. “Any St. Clair kid who wants to play can play, and we have a good combination of Mankato kids, too.”
But they’re not all originally from the area.
Center fielder Jesse Jennings moved to Mankato from Red Wing in February after a sudden change in jobs. A Robbinsdale native who played college ball at Minnesota-Crookston and town ball for a few different teams in the Twin Cities, he scoured the internet looking for a local team to play for this summer after moving.
The new St. Clair Wood Ducks seemed like a perfect fit, he said.
“This league is good,” the 26-year-old said. “There are a lot of guys who care.”
Besides Wells, the 13/60 also includes the Blue Earth Pirates, Cleveland Spiders, Eagle Lake Expos, Janesville Jays, Lake Crystal Lakers, Minnesota Lake Royals, Morristown Morries and Waterville Indians. Eagle Lake is a newer team, too, playing in its second season.
The Wood Ducks look sharp in their green “Woodies” jerseys, featuring white numbers with orange trim. But the highlight of the uniform is the cap adorned with an angry cartoon duck.
“I love baseball, and I love duck hunting,” said Mike Anderson, who won a world duck calling contest in 2009. “Duck hunting is my No. 1 passion in life; baseball is No. 2.”
Besides giving players a chance to continue playing, Anderson said he’s trying to instill some town-ball tradition in the team. That includes doing a lot of grounds work on the St. Clair field (Thursday’s games were at Wolverton because they needed lights for the doubleheader), referred to on the team schedule as the Duck Slough.
“Growing up playing town ball, the town team always assumed ownership of the field,” he said. “We’ve worked on it to make it better. We’ve put in a ton of hours. We’re pretty proud that we’ve been able to turn the field into something to be proud of.”
Now that the inaugural season is nearly under his belt, Anderson said he’s already thinking about next summer.
There will be a lot of work between now and then, especially fundraising to keep the club stable.
For now, though, it’s all about baseball.
Up next for the Wood Ducks will be a 2 p.m. game Sunday at St. Clair against Minnesota Lake.
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