Baseball: Wingers in the spotlight
The circus is coming to Red Wing.
A gaggle of scouts and baseball aficionados are expected to flock to the Red Wing Athletic Field for the much-anticipated start of baseball season to see the Wingers. The poor weather, with more snow expected this week, has provided a reprieve from the attention that will descend on the Ath every time Red Wing senior and major-league prospect Ryan Boldt hits the field. But if it was up to Boldt, Red Wing would already be deep into the season.
"I've had enough of a break I think," Boldt said. "I'm eager to get outside and get going, that's for sure. Hopefully the weather breaks soon... I'm pretty anxious."
Expectations are sky-high for both Boldt and the Wingers this season, but the team remains loose, looking to take advantage of the interest placed on Boldt.
"I hope the kids understand that it's an opportunity for them," Red Wing co-head coach Jim Bohmbach said.
As the focus locks on Boldt, the Wingers will attempt to follow up a season in which they qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 1977. Red Wing finished with a 23-2 record and shared the Class 3A consolation championship with Hill-Murray. The Wingers also went 7-0 in one-run games, including three walk-off victories.
"That's not going to happen every year," Bohmbach said. "Things like that have to fall in place. Do we have the potential to do that? I think we have the potential to do that again."
The Wingers also made a coaching addition, bringing in former Hastings head coach and Red Wing High School graduate Paul Hartmann to be a co-head coach with Bohmbach. Hartmann graduated from Red Wing in 1997 and played three seasons as a catcher for the University of Minnesota baseball team, winning Big Ten championships in 1998 and 2000. Hartmann and Bohmbach played together with the Red Wing Aces in the past and Bohmbach said he coached Hartmann as well.
"I think we're really on the same page," Bohmbach said. "(Hartmann) is a great team player, willing to do whatever I want to do. He brings so much different stuff to the game that takes over some of my weaknesses. He's such a good teacher ... It was time for a little face change here. He adds tons of energy."
"I really feel like I'm supposed to be back in Red Wing," Hartmann added. "The biggest challenge was to try to get to know these kids and hopefully be accepted by them and be accepted by the rest of the coaching staff and the community again. And they've welcomed me with open arms."
The Wingers biggest challenge this season will be replacing 12 graduated varsity players. With them went 78 percent of Red Wing's at-bats and nearly 86 percent of its innings pitched. The Wingers need to replace six of its eight pitchers from last season, including Joel Newman, who went 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA, and Zach Garner, who was 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings.
"I don't think you can replace those guys, but I think what we've seen so far is some guys that have worked at it a little bit in the offseason," Bohmbach said. "There are guys that are hungry to get the opportunity to throw."
But no other team in the state can boast talent like Boldt, committed to play for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Buck. Both competed in major baseball showcases across the country last summer.
In 25 games for Red Wing last year, Boldt hit .423 with a .516 on-base percentage and a .756 slugging percentage, clubbing seven doubles, five triples and three home runs in 78 at-bats. He knocked in 28 RBI and walked 14 times to just two strikeouts. Teams may elect to pitch around Boldt or walk him intentionally but that might not be the best tactic; Boldt stole 16 bases in 17 attempts. And that doesn't include his summer playing for the Team USA 18-and-under team that won a gold medal in Seoul, South Korea in the fall. Boldt showed tremendous speed on the international stage, setting an International Baseball Federation 18U World Championships record with 12 stolen bases in nine games.
"Ryan has that ability to focus on what's happening now so I think despite everything that's happened with him, he still can come back and play high school baseball," senior outfielder Preston Blaney said.
Buck and Blaney will be counted on to protect Boldt in the lineup, with Buck slotted in the cleanup spot and Blaney batting fifth. Blaney had a .438 on-base percentage last year with seven of his eight hits going for extra bases.
"He's not going to see the same kind of pitches he saw last year, but once an at-bat he's going to see it and he'll be ready for it," Hartmann said. "Behind him, Ty and Preston, that's going to be up to them to provide protection. The great thing about when Ryan gets on is he's going to be moving one way or another. That can distract pitchers and hopefully those guys can see a cookie and go get it."
Buck, now a sophomore, joined the team halfway through the year as a ninth-grader and produced a .297 batting average and six RBI. But the Wingers felt his presence most on the mound. He struck out 22 batters in 17 2/3 innings, going 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA and allowing a total of three hits.
"I got to step up and pitch like I did last year," Buck said, "but we've also got Trey Eckstrom pitching and he was really good last year. We have people to fill spots but they've got to step up and get the job done."
Eckstrom struck out nine in nine innings and did not allow a run last year. With Boldt in centerfield, Blaney expected to start in right field and Zach Lang in left field, the Wingers have plenty of speed in the outfield, a crucial element for a new pitching staff.
Bohmbach said he knows he can't expect the same production from his pitchers this year but Buck and Eckstrom will play big roles in the Wingers' success this season. Red Wing will also miss David Goggin and his ability to quarterback the team from his catcher's position.
The spotlight will be burning on the Ath and the Wingers see the 2013 season as another chance to make history.
"We definitely don't want to lower our expectations from last year," Boldt said. "Every year you want to improve. I think we have a chance to do that. I think we're going to have a pretty successful season."