By Nick Gerhardt
Recent success is spurring a pair of teams to start up in southern Minnesota.
St. Clair and Wabasso will field teams for the first time this season after both communities have seen solid gains at the high school level.
Wabasso claimed a Minnesota State High School League state title back in 2008 at the Class A level and made a state tournament appearance in 2018 where the Rabbits won the consolation title.
Up until three years ago, Wabasso played its home games nearly 20 miles away in Milroy. The state title in 2008 started the discussion about Wabasso building its own field and after a community effort, the field opened in 2016.
“The community kind of thought it was a good time to keep those kids in town,” said Wabasso High School baseball head coach Chad Olson.
Wide-ranging support helped build the field. The Wabasso Area Baseball Association received land through the city’s economic development authority to build the field and donations from the community funded the construction. The WABA received a $10,000 grant from the Twins Community Fund and another $10,000 grant from the Five Star Foundation. The project also got a large donation from an anonymous donor.
Family members of high school players and community members donated their time and equipment for the construction project.
All told, the project cost nearly $500,000 with around $168,000 going to pay for the lights.
“We felt that it wasn’t good for the kids to be traveling nearly 20 miles every day for practice and have all our home games outside of the school district,” said WABA board member Tony Kramer. “With the great cooperation with the city of Wabasso and the Economic Development Authority we were able to get permission to proceed to raise funds for the field.”
If you build it, they will come
Several former Wabasso High School players have played for Lamberton in the past and some still do but Wabasso has not had a town team of its own — until now.
“We’re kind of excited about it,” Kramer said. “So many of these communities are seeing so many people leave town. It’s a reason for people to come to town.”
The Wabasso Jaxx will take the field in 2019 with a roster mixed with high school players and former Wabasso High School players.
Corey Theis will manage the Jaxx and says he has at least 14 committed players and around 22-23 total.
Wabasso, which means Rabbit in Ojibwe, took its name as an homage to the high school mascot and added “Xs” to stand out from the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits.
The Jaxx will play in the Corn Belt League against nearby foes like the Milroy Yankees and Marshall A’s.
The WABA isn’t done with projects at the field either. It has plans to build permanent bullpens, a press box, grandstand roof and a batters’ eye in the future.
The Jaxx will play their inaugural game May 19 against Willmar in Willmar and will hold their first-ever home opener May 22 against Sacred Heart.
“It’s really exciting to have a field in the community,” Kramer said. “Even for the elderly people and others to have something to do in the community. It’s more than something just for the kids. It’s generated a lot of interest in our baseball program.”
A little more than an hour and a half to the east, St. Clair will field a town team this season after the high school team experienced success.
Mike Anderson, a longtime amateur player with Cleveland, is starting a team in St. Clair after the high school team finished 11-5 — its first winning record in at least the last 15 years, if not longer.
St. Clair doesn’t have an American Legion baseball team, so for those who want to continue to play baseball in the summer, like Anderson’s son, Ben, and his teammates, it means having to look for a team. The St. Clair Wood Ducks amateur baseball team will try to plug that hole.
“This is just another opportunity to have those kids play,” Anderson said.
The team will play at St. Clair High School though it has a few games scheduled at Franklin Rogers Park in Mankato, too.
The Wood Ducks will play in the 13/60 League and begin the season May 19 against Lake Crystal in Lake Crystal.