By Matt Kane - Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch
DASSEL, Minn. — Dassel-Cokato Manager Mark Forsman added to the resumé of his already hall-of-fame career July 29, when he won his 500th game as manager of the Saints.
The monumental victory was a 4-2 win over Howard Lake in an elimination game of the North Star League West playoffs. That the win came against the Orphans, the West Division regular-season champion, made the win more memorable.
“That makes it a little more special,” Forsman said. “It was a meaningful game and a good team.”
Entering the Howard Lake game, winning the game for survival in the playoffs was the only thing on Forsman’s mind. In fact, nobody knew the next win was No. 500. Well, almost nobody.
“We got done with the game and congratulated the pitchers, like we always do, and then “Bookie” throws a ball at me that says “500.” He said congratulations, that was your 500th win,” said Forsman, a 2010 NSL Hall of Fame inductee.
“Bookie” is Brian Larson, the NSL secretary. He sat at the Howard Lake game gripping that “500” baseball the entire nine innings, hoping the Orphans didn’t make a comeback.
“It was interesting Friday night when the Saints went ahead of Howard Lake. I was thinking what a game for Mark — to win to put his team into the regions and for his 500th win,” Larson said.
Larson explained why he kept the milestone a secret.
“Keeping it a secret is where I had my fun. After the Howard Lake game, Mark was addressing his team when he turned and saw me standing in the dugout. He got the most puzzled look on his face thinking, ‘What in the hell is Brian doing here,’” Larson explained. “I told the team its win was a milestone for their manager, as it was his 500th win. I got one of the game balls and wrote “500” on it and handed it to Mark. The team became very excited, having added a double meaning to their win.”
Remembering back to before the Howard Lake game, Forsman remembers wondering why Larson was at the Saints’ first playoff game against Maple Lake July 22.
“I thought it was strange because, when we played Maple Lake, he decided to come and sit in the bleachers,” Forsman explained. “It was strange that he lives in Eden Prairie and would come to that game. I thought he just wanted to see that game. I had no idea.”
Forsman was oblivious to the fact that Larson was at the Maple Lake game to present that 500th-win ball if the Saints picked up the win. Dassel-Cokato lost the game 5-4, forcing Larson to attend the game against Howard Lake in Loretto.
“It seemed like he gave me a bat a few years ago for 400 wins, so time must fly,” said Forsman. “If it wasn’t for Brian, I wouldn’t know where I was at. I’m not the guy who would know how many wins I had.”
After the game is when everybody, including Howard Lake manager Mike Gagnon, found out about Forsman’s milestone win.
“If I would have known about (the 500th win) before the game, we would have tried to win,” Gagnon joked later.
Following the Howard Lake game, the Saints went on to split the seeding series with Maple Lake, lost a non-league game to the Cold Spring Springers, and, in the first round of the Region 12C playoffs Wednesday night in Loretto, lost 2-1 to Albertville. Forsman’s career record following the Albertville loss was 504-314.
Those 818 games came in 25 years of managing, all with the Saints. He stepped down as manager in 1985 to get married and build a house, and from 1990-92, he was just a player before putting the manager’s cap back on for good in 1993.
In those 25 seasons, Forsman’s teams have 12 league titles and eight region titles, and have gone to the state tournament 13 times, including a stretch of six in a row.
“Mark has been a steady rock on which Dassel-Cokato baseball has been built. He has not only guided the D-C Saints to be an excellent baseball team but made their youth baseball a well-run program for boys of all ages,” Larson said. “His guiding hand helped transform Dassel Ball Park from one of the worst ball fields in the league to one of the best.”
Gagnon, who entered the NSL Hall of Fame with Forsman last season, echoed Larson’s view on Forsman, and complemented the rival manager on how he runs the Saints on and off the field.
“Mark is the most organized leader I know. Under his guidance, the Saints have greatly improved their ball park over the years and have a good systems in place for fund raising, signeage, and special events,” the Orphans’ skipper said.
Forsman’s rookie season with the Saints was 1982, and his first year as manager came as a 19-year-old kid in 1983. He doesn’t remember the game or even the team it was against, but he remembers the circumstances surrounding his step into the manger’s chair.”
“Back in 1980, the Saints did not have a team. They disbanded because nobody wanted to manage. “We got back together in 1981, and I picked it up in 1983.
“We had trouble getting into a league, and had to play independent, and had to go to the Class A tournament.”
Prior to the season off in 1980, Dassel-Cokato played in the North Star League. When the Saints returned to the field in 1981, the North Star League did not let them back in. The Saints eventually played in the St. Cloud league and then in the Central Valley League until 1993, when they finished second in the Class C state tournament for the second season in a row.
Those pair of second-place finished bumped Dassel-Cokato up to Class B, and left the Saints looking for better Class B competition. That competition was in the North Star League, and, this time the league accepted the Saints back.
The 1992 and ‘93 state tournaments were two of 13 Forsman has led the Saints to. He played in three.
It’s often said that a manager is only as good as his players, but, for Forsman, it is also true he is only as good as his support at home.
“To be able to get this milestone, I had to have a supportive family and a wife who lets me do what I want. She understands it. She gets it. She’s heard all the ups and downs. That’s a big part of it,” he said. “We’ve always gotten good support from communities and good support from everybody.”
Forsman certainly gives those players much of the credit, as well, for his 500 wins.
“I’ve been lucky as far as having good players,” he said. “And I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good pitching. If you have pitching, you have a pretty good chance to win.”
Most of the talent on the field in Dassel is harvested right in the Saints’ backyard. That’s something Gagnon commends Forsman for.
“I admire his commitment of almost exclusively using DC graduates for the Saints roster. The Saints have had some turnover the last few years but are now seeing the younger players develop,” Gagnon said. “Mark’s teams are fundamentally sound, play good defense, pitch well, and are capable of bunting and base stealing. They seem to be able to manufacture extra runs due to his style.”
The development of Saints players starts well before they enter high school.
“The key is we have a good youth program. We spend a lot of time and work hard on that,” Forsman noted. “We don’t get players from out of town. It’s all DC kids. Tradition is always part of it, too. We expect to win when we go on the field.”
The ability to instill that “expect to win” mentality into his players is what makes Forsman one of the better managers in the state, but he also admits he doesn’t mind taking a loss at times.
“I’m willing to take some losses when the game doesn’t mean as much,” he said.
What Forsman means is he is will to take a loss in non-league games when he makes it a point to clean off his bench in order to get everybody some playing experience.
“I’m fortunate to have eight or nine guys on my team who can pitch. If you only play league games, you aren’t going to get anybody sharp,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for those bench players to earn playing time for league games because of how they perform in the non-league games. Keeping everybody fresh and ready to play has aided in Forsman’s success.
“They know coming in that they will get an opportunity. If you perform, you will play,” he said. The biggest thing I will tell them is, ‘If you play well and do what you are supposed to do, you will play.’”
Knowing he will get a chance to prove himself by playing significant innings keeps players coming back to the Forsman-led Saints. That creates a tight-knit team and often winning.
“There is very little turnover each year on our roster and that is a tribute to him,” said third baseman Brent Opsahl, who is in his 14th season under Forsman. “We have guys that drive from all over all season long to come back home to play baseball for the DC Saints, when they could easily play for a team much closer to their current homes.”
Getting everybody playing time may have cost the Saints a few wins, but not everybody believes Forsman when he says he’s willing to take a loss.
“He hates losing as much as any person I have ever met,” Opsahl said. “It doesn’t matter if it is an exhibition game in early May or a state tournament game at the end of August, he never takes a game off.”
Opsahl believes Forsman’s approach to handling players has led to his and the Saints history of winning much more often than losing.
“I think Mark is an excellent town team manager,” Opsahl said. “He does an excellent job of motivating and getting the most out of each player. He does a very good job of putting players in a role in which they can succeed and use there skill set to help the team win.”
Opsahl continued: “One of the biggest things that makes Mark a successful manager is finding what we do well and using that to our advantage, and also figuring out what the other team doesn’t do well and exploiting it as much as he can.”
That approach to managing has proven successful for Forsman and the Dassel-Cokato Saints, and it will, no doubt keep producing winning seasons. How many of those season will the Saints be managed by Forsman? He has no idea.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about whether he will go for win No. 600. “At some point, you have to know when to walk away. I don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t know when it’s enough.”
Dassel-Cokato plays in the Class C State Tournament August 20th at 11:00 A.M. in Glencoe.
- Matt Kane is the Sports Editor for the DC Enterprise Dispatch