The state of local baseball

I had the distinct pleasure this week of catching games on consecutive nights at the all-new Stanton Field. Having seen several games there this season, I can honestly say, I am impressed with the improvements made to the field, many necessary. Come to think of it, the Hancock Driving Park and Wolverine Field in Kearsarge are also in great shape.

Of course, this all coincides with the growth of baseball in the area once again.

Just a couple of years ago, local baseball was on life support. With numbers dropping in Little League and the once-proud Twilight League down to just four teams, things appeared dire at best.

Enter the birth, or rather rebirth, of high school baseball at Houghton and Hancock. With a spring schedule, baseball gave local athletes an opportunity to compete in a sport other than track or golf.

Both the Gremlins and Bulldogs found some modest success despite being the only local teams for the first couple of seasons. That success paved the way for what happened this season with the debut of three new teams, Jeffers, Calumet and L’Anse.

The Purple Hornets and Copper Kings have both had baseball in the past, but it had been generations ago. Hornets manager Jeff Fish’s father had played for L’Anse, just to give you an idea of how long ago they had the sport.

Fish was instrumental in drumming up interest in L’Anse for baseball. He was not the first, but he was the most vocal and passionate. That passion shown through when the school decided to field a team this season. His squad mirrored his personality, fiery, but also willing to be patient within the system.

David Yeo revived a long-dead program in Calumet. Last season, I fielded several questions about whether the Copper Kings would ever get a team off the ground, and I often joked that they would not until they figured out how to win, since the Copper Kings cannot stand losing.

Well, it may seem I was right, as Yeo not only put together a talented squad with a pair of good pitchers, but his team won a district game in its first season. Certainly, that is a high bar to set for future teams.

The Jeffers Jets, under the tutelage of a friend and former classmate of mine at Michigan Tech, Steve Lishinski, also had a strong first season. Another guy who exudes passion and determination, Lishinski wears many hats for the Jets, but he really appeared at home on the baseball field this season.

A former collegiate player himself, Lishinski made sure his players did not waste opportunities at the plate, and that made them a dangerous team throughout the season.

In the Twilight League this season, a fifth team made its debut about a month ago: the Copper Country Miners. A team made up of current high school athletes and a couple of recent graduates, the Miners have handled themselves well in their games thus far. After struggling to catch up to the pitching of the Twilight League, the Miners have begun to string together some strong at-bats, leading to two wins in their last three outings.

Before the high school season began, the Driving Park and Wolverine Field both debuted their fresh and updated looks.

The Driving Park had a new fence cap added, which borders the field and protects the players during those close plays at the fence. Also, the infield was re-sodded. The new grass took hold extremely well, giving the Driving Park the feel of a quality surface.

Wolverine Field was shifted ever so slightly, but it feels a little more inviting to opposing players now. A fence cap was also added, giving the fence a feel of new life.

Stanton also saw several improvements, which caused the delay of its debut until near the end of the high school season. The field was shifted slightly, a new fence was added and some trees that border the field were cut down. Along with all of that, the field was re-seeded and the dugouts received a fresh coat of paint along with some awesome-looking new decals, which display the history of the field as well as the sponsorship.

I know I’m forgetting improvements made at all three fields, and I apologize for that. What strikes me is how impressive all three fields look as compared to last year.

Baseball is back in the area, and appears to be healthy. It appears that high school baseball is doing a great job of filling the gap between Little League and Twilight League now, and recent Houghton graduate Cole Jepsen has earned a chance to play for a junior college starting next season, proving that local athletes can succeed beyond just playing locally.

I would say the same for softball, but that is another subject for another time…