A Conversation with Grumpy

Minnesota town ball is pretty unique and special.  I am not sure if a lot of the players are even aware of this.  There really is nothing like it anywhere else in the country and probably the whole world.  It seems a little strange but men’s amateur baseball is not the same in other states.  I am including the big baseball states like California and Florida in that statement.  Town ball here is different.

First, there is a lot more of it.  There are literally hundreds of teams with thousands of players.  Even very small towns are fielding competitive baseball teams.  But what is cooler is the sense of history involved.  Some towns have had teams for over a hundred years.  Pretty mind bottling if you think about it (yes that is a Will Ferrell quote).

I got a chance to chat about some of that history at one of my games this summer with the town ball legend known as Grumpy.

The way it unfolded was perfect, Grumpy simply strolled into my team’s dugout during our game with the Chaska Cubs.  I am injured and was only at the game because hey, Chaska is a pretty awesome place to catch a game.  Anyway, Grumpy strolls in looking for me and takes the seat on the bench next to me.  I could see some of the younger guys looking at him and wondering who this guy was that he could come into a team’s dugout and nobody gives him any grief.  That’s respect, but we will get to that later.  I was stoked to see him so I pretty much spent the rest of the night chatting with him in our dugout as we battled with the always tough Chaska team.

So who is Grumpy?  Minnesota baseball royalty is the correct answer.  A guy who has been around the game for a very long time as an exceptional player and umpire would be another.  Tim Steinbach would be a third.

Before I go further I want you to know I may have some facts wrong.  This is information I have gathered over the years from others about Grumpy and from Grumpy himself.  Which is difficult in a way because he really doesn’t talk about himself.  It is my experience that most great players don’t.  They don’t feel like they need to tell you that they were good.  They just know they were.  What I am pretty sure of is that Grumpy was the oldest of the Steinbach brothers from New Ulm.  All three of which played for the Minnesota Gophers in the early 80’s.  Both of his younger brothers were drafted and one of the brothers, Terry, played 16 years of Major League baseball winning a World Series with Oakland in 1989.

Grumpy and his brothers all played for the New Ulm Kaiserhoff town team.  Tom is the career home run leader and Grumpy was on the all tournament team when the Kaiserhoff won the state title in 1980.  Sadly, the Kaiserhoff folded this year after being around for like 100 years.  Literally.

I know Grumpy best as an umpire.  Because he was good.  He was good because he understands baseball.  He doesn’t try to do to much.  He just sees the game and does his best.  Sadly, I think he is done umping as well.

I visited the town ball hall of fame website.  I didn’t see Grumpy on it.  I really don’t know what the criteria is to get in but I would think being a great player and then a great umpire for a really long time should qualify.  Maybe I am crazy.

So Grumpy and I took in the game while we talked about playing, and aluminum bats, and umpiring, and guys we had seen that we both knew and guys that I had only heard of but he had seen, and where the game was going and where it had been.  It was fun.  It was something that Minnesota town ball can give you.  The guys who knew Grumpy all took a minute to say “hi” and ask how he was.  Nobody said anything about him not being on our team and watching from the dugout.  Like I said, respect.  The best part occurred after the game.  One of the younger guys asked me “who was that guy?”

I said, “that was Grumpy, Tim Steinbach.  You know, Terry Steinbach’s brother.”

“Who is Terry Steinbach?”

Like I said, history.

I made him google it.

Class A Town Ball Rankings 7-19-17

Right off the bat I would like to apologize, this is my first ranking of the season and it is coming very close to the end.  Here are my excuses.  I am injured.  While this hasn’t really affected my ability to write it has kept me away from the field and I just haven’t seen that many teams play.  So all I really have to go on are records and websites.  Unfortunately there are quite a few class A teams who do not keep websites or they have outdated information.  This means that this is probably inaccurate.  Who am I kidding, it is always inaccurate and really I do it for the fun of it.  So without further ado, here are mnamateurbaseball.com’s official class A rankings!

1.) SAINT LOUIS PARK PIRATES (33-8) – Park completed league sweep of Minnetonka and then followed with a win over the St. Anthony Hogs.  The Park bats are still as potent as ever as they are on pace to hit 50 homers, 100 doubles, and 400 runs.

2.) MINNETONKA MILLERS (26-7) – The Millers are still the team to beat.  Blain Rutledge has emerged over the last few years as one of the most dangerous hitters in town ball and helps to offset some of the thump that left with the retirement of Joe Abellera.  Getting back Cody Knaus from Indy ball makes their pitching staff that much dirtier.

3.) MINNEAPOLIS ANGELS (16-10) – The number three spot goes to the team atop the Park National league.  While the overall record is 16-10 the Angels are an impressive 15-2 in league play.  This is mainly due to a really good pitching staff.  However staff ace Matt Schuld got signed by the Saints so that kind of sucks for the Angels.

4.) STOCKMENS IRISH (18-7-1) – Stockmens sits atop the Skyline and boasts a pretty impressive record.  I have not seen them play this year but if they are returning the guys they had last year, and they have another year of experience, they could be the real deal.

5.) SAINT PAUL CAPITALS (18-13) – Finding information about the St. Paul league is difficult.  I think the Caps are on top but I might be totally wrong.  I do know they still have one of the most dangerous line-ups in the state.  Not sure about the state of their pitching but they are always good.

6.) BASEBALL 365 (13-4) – Led by town ball legend and Baseball 365 owner Nate Cousins, these young bucks sit in the 2 spot in the Park National league.  They have a legit centerfielder who can really go get the ball.  That always helps.

7.) SAINT ANTHONY HOGS (18-10) – These guys are always good.  They have a great staff and play solid baseball all around.  They have beaten some very good opponents this year with wins over Tonka, Park, and the Caps.

8.)  LYONS PUB WARRIORS (18-9) – The Pub started the season like animals going 9-1 through their first 10 games including wins over the Caps, Elko, and the Angels.  They are playing about .500 ball since then but I would look for them to contend at the end.

9.) MINNEAPOLIS COBRAS (24-11) – The Cobras are a streaky team but man they have 24 wins.  That is a lot.

10.) BLOOMINGTON BANDITS (17-6) – George Walker deserves some kudos.  Year after year he manages to put together a team of guys that I think is entirely from Bloomington.  Oh, and they are always good.

You may notice that Kelly Fuels Diesel, the Shamrocks, and Tri-City are absent from this list.  That is because I have no idea how they are doing.  The Diamond Cutters are not on here either.  That is because I think they are somebody else now and I just can’t keep up with that kind of name changing.

Duda Hits Town Ball Milestone With 1000th Hit

I knew when I coached Chris Duda in high school he was a little off.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then but after playing the last 17 years with him I think I have him figured out.  It is simple really, he isn’t playing with a full deck.

This is not a bad thing, his quirkiness has created some of the most memorable moments I have ever seen on a baseball field.  And maybe some day I will take the time to write all about it.  For now, I think a generation of town ball pitchers would agree that they just hate facing him.  He is so close to the plate that I have wondered on many occasions if I truly understand the rules regarding the batters box.  In any case, I have watched him torture opposing pitchers for a very long time and he has recently hit one of those statistical milestones that I mentioned in my last post are in a small way significant.  Chris collected his 1000th hit with a wood bat.

I say a wood bat because yes there was a time when aluminum was used in town ball.  Because he plays for Saint Louis Park who went to wood in 1999, Chris never played in that era.  All of his hits have been collected with wood.  While I suspect there are quite a few guys running around who picked up 1000 hits with aluminum, I think the number of guys with 1000 wood hits is a very short list.  Feel free to comment if you know someone who is close to or has a 1000 hits.

So congratulations to Chris who is showing no signs of slowing down.

Cousins Hits Townball Milestone

Let’s face it, most town ball statistics are silly.  They don’t really mean much and are just a step above the softball player who knows his batting average and thinks you will be impressed if he tells it to you.  But most teams and players still keep fairly careful records.  Mostly because it is just fun.

There are, however, some statistics that I think stand out a little above the rest and are in a small way significant.  These have to do with longevity, and excellence over time.  Milestones if you will.  Baseball 365 manager and starting pitcher Nate Cousins recently hit one of these milestones when he recorded his 100th town ball pitching victory.

For those not familiar with town ball, I will explain why getting 100 wins is pretty cool and also rather difficult.  Most town ball teams play between 25-50 games a year.  So if you are the number one pitcher you can expect to start between 10-20 games.  As an example, my team plays a very heavy schedule at 50-60 games a year and the most starts we have ever had in a season is 14.  So even if you are a lights out pitcher you would be very good if you were able to get 10 wins a year.  So assuming you were never injured and you won almost every outing (which means you are on good teams) it would take you 10 seasons to achieve 100 wins.  The reality is that almost never happens.  So how did Nate do it?  Aside from being a stud, he grinded it out.  And that is why I think this is a meaningful statistic.

Nate started town ball in 1999 with the Moorehead Miners and played with them during his college years when he pitched at Hamline.  In 2002 he entered the Park National league with the Minneapolis Lakers and has stayed in that league ever since playing with the Minneapolis Rocks, Lyons Pub, and finally Baseball 365.  It has been in this very competitive league that Nate has recorded the bulk of his wins (93) including 3 no-hitters against the Merchants, Lyon’s Pub, and the Cobras.  All teams that are known for having thump in their bats.

Nate’s overall record is 100-61 and in his 19 seasons he has pitched over 1200 innings and recorded 955 K’s.  I know I said earlier that stats don’t mean much but that is pretty cool.

In all seriousness, congratulations to Nate.  If you want to talk baseball with him you can visit him at his store Baseball 365.  It is a store dedicated to only baseball and is located in Bloomington.  If you are looking for quality baseball stuff it is really the only place to go.

I would be curious to know who else has hit the 100 win mark in town ball.  I can think of a few who I know did it but not many.  If you know anyone who has leave a comment.

What Ever Happened to Pretty Boy Jimmy Heck?

Fear not!  The storied career of the prettiest man this writer has ever laid eyes on is not over!  Jimmy is tearing up the American Association.

Jimmy started the year with the Joliet Jackhammers of the Frontier League.  These nincompoops released him before they even really got started.  But this was a blessing in disguise as he was picked up by the Salina Stockade of the American Association.  Which anyone who follows independent ball will tell you is a much stronger league.

Now, Jimmy is starting every game and is hitting a very respectable .298.  Keep up the good work Jimmy!  And now here is a picture for the ladies!

A Battle of Two Dinosaurs

The lucky few who attended the town ball game between the Saint Louis Park Pirates and the Northwest Orioles last week were rewarded with a scene seldom viewed outside of old black and white movies.  Two genuine dinosaurs did battle…

I play for the Pirates and when I started this blog I decided I would avoid talking about myself, but I think I have finally found the perfect moment to mention my on field exploits.  You see, I was one of the dinosaurs.

In a strange twist of fate I found myself pitching.  I am not really a pitcher but hey this is town ball, everybody pitches eventually.  The Orioles veteran manager was quick to pounce.  He saw this as the opportunity he had been waiting for; time for an AB.  That very shrewd manager is none other than town ball legend Joe Lavin and while I don’t know Joe’s exact age, I do know he was already a veteran when I entered the Riverview in 1991.  So early cretaceous most likely.  I always wanted to find a way to say that.

Back to the action.  The two wily vets squared off, like T-Rex versus Triceratops.  But I just couldn’t find the zone and quickly went down 3-0.  Finally I reached back and threw another ball that Joe swung at anyway and fouled off so that he wouldn’t walk.  I am telling you this guy is a genius.  So out of respect I said “Here comes a fastball you fossil!” then threw a speeding ball at least 71 MPH right down the middle.  Joe would not be denied!  He smoked a single right through the glove of the third basemen who may or may not have been watching the monumental clash of titans occurring right before him.  Base hit Lavin!  The entire episode can be summed up by this picture.

Hey There is a Minnesota Kid on Davidson

In case you don’t follow college baseball here is a pretty cool story.  The  Davidson Wildcats just pulled off a major upset.  In their first ever trip to the NCAA tournament (and they have been playing baseball for 115 years) these young college go getters just became the second 4th seed to ever sweep a regional tournament and only the sixth to ever move on.  This was no easy task as they had to beat North Carolina, the No. 2 overall DI team, twice to move on.  They completed the sweep last night with a 2-1 win over the Tar Heels.

Former Minnehaha Academy super stud Alex Fedje-Johnson had a front row seat.  He is a freshman with the Wildcats.  Congrats to Fedje and all the best of luck to him and the Wildcats in the Super Regional.

I Guess Dickmeyer Didn’t Read My Last Post

I was really afraid that  I might jinx Jake Dickmeyer when I mentioned in my last post that it would be cool if he finished the season with zero walks.  It turns out I didn’t!  Jake led the entire nation (DIII) with 0.00 walks per 9 innings.  Jake threw 64 innings this season.  I have been playing, coaching and scouting baseball for a long time and I have never seen anything like this.  Admittedly I wasn’t always paying close attention to how often pitchers walked hitters but zero walks in 64 IP is truly amazing.

The rest of Jake’s stats were pretty darn good too.  He was 6-2 overall and posted a 2.25 ERA.  At 4-1 in conference play with a 0.81 WHIP he was named to the all MIAC team.  Congratulations Mr. Dickmeyer!