John's Journal
The Price Of A Late Spring: Softball Under An Inflatable Roof 4/3/2013
When the softball teams from Tartan and Mahtomedi faced off Wednesday, everything was business as usual … but not exactly.

For one thing the game was played indoors, under the inflated roof of a sports dome at the West St. Paul Regional Athletics Center. That meant no dirt, only artificial turf; which meant no cleats, only tennis shoes. Batted balls were likely to carom off the ceiling or scoot underneath plastic fencing that marked the outfield limits.

“The ball takes a completely different bounce on turf than it does in the dirt or on a gym floor,” said Mahtomedi coach Angela Vedders. “The girls have to read it completely differently. There are no cleats, so leading off and getting out of the box is much harder. The fences are off. It’s just very different. On Monday we slid past the bag a few times because they’re used to sliding and stopping in the dirt.”

This is the apparent new normal, at least in this year of a spring that is reluctant to make an appearance. As I wrote this week about baseball being played inside the Metrodome, softball is in the same boat, often a boat that is docked inside any warm and dry place to play. Teams are working out in gyms and sports domes that are scattered around the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, and frustration with the weather is becoming as big a part of the game as balls and strikes.

“This is my fifth year (as Tartan’s coach) and this is the worst,” said Brian Larson. “Last year was the best and this year is the worst. We’re going to try to get through it.”

The teams from Tartan and Mahtomedi had already played one game inside the West St. Paul dome, so Wednesday’s setting was almost routine. Portable netting was set up behind home plate, the Tartan Titans bench was inside a batting cage, and fans watched from along the walls of the dome or stood beyond the outfield fence. There was no scoreboard, and the Tartan boys lacrosse team practiced on the opposite end of the dome while the softball game was played.

“You have to adjust to that ceiling,” Larson said, looking up. “The ball probably hit the ceiling 10 times in the last game and it did have an affect on one play. Foul balls are affected more; the umpires have to call whether it’s foul or fair coming up. If it hits the ceiling fair, you’ve got to play it.”

In the first inning Wednesday, a line drive bounced into right-center field and rolled under the fence. Two outfielders threw their arms into the air, signaling the ball was out of play and it was called a ground-rule double.

“Not being able to be outside we are not able to have a real game-like situation until we get to the dome,” Vedders said. “So our first real live game situation happens in the dome while we’re playing. Gyms aren’t made to be softball fields, so it gets really challenging when you’re trying to build a program and have girls adjust to positions they have never played before. It’s hard to play left, right or center when you don’t have a left, right or center indoors.

“We’ve thought about shoveling off the fields to try and get out there. But I’m glad we can get games in so we’re not backlogged.”

Tartan has an outdoor game scheduled Friday at Spring Lake Park, but on Wednesday Larson was not optimistic that it will be played there.

“I haven’t talked to them but I don’t think their field’s going to be ready,” he said. “Next week looks like it’s going to be dead, too.”

The same prognosis was found at Tartan and almost every other school in the area.

“Our AD talked to me today about being indoors next week for sure and possibly the following week because the frost needs to be out,” Vedders said. “Otherwise we wreck the fields.”

--To see a photo gallery from the game between Tartan and Mahtomedi, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 558
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,826
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
As We Await Spring, Indoor Baseball Is The Only Option4/2/2013
Kolten Barker, a senior pitcher and shortstop on the Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball team, could have been speaking for every baseball player – as well as every spring-sport athlete – in Minnesota when he made this statement Tuesday: “I think a bunch of guys are really disappointed.”

He was talking about the miserable weather that has harassed, delayed and played havoc with spring sports. The baseball teams from Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Maple River enjoyed a respite Tuesday afternoon by playing their season opener inside the vast expanse of the Metrodome. The game was scheduled by the coaches months and months ago, which turned out to be a pretty smart move.

“(LCWM coach) John Madsen and I have been around for quite a while,” said Maple River coach Randy Olson. “Last year we were saying, ‘We always get that first game delayed so why don’t we just play it up here?’ ”

The fee to use the Metrodome is $500 per hour, which includes use of the scoreboards and public-address system. But there is no shortage of teams on the high school and college levels from Minnesota and other states who have reserved time at the indoor ballpark.

Tuesday’s schedule began at 6 a.m. with a college doubleheader between St. Cloud State and Minnesota Crookston, followed by the Maple River-LCWM game, Henry Sibley vs. St. Paul Highland Park at 4 p.m., a game between Wisconsin high schools Menomonie and New Richmond at 7 p.m., and finally a 10 p.m. game between Maple Grove and Watertown-Mayer.

Baseball teams in the upper Midwest have few other options. There are a handful of outdoor fields that have artificial turf, but this spring’s bone-chilling temperatures make that a less-than-enticing proposition.

Minnetonka High School baseball coach Paul Twenge, whose school has an artificial turf diamond, said, “I’ve been here for seven years and we’ve only had this happen one other time, and that year it was snow. This year it’s the cold.”

Twenge receives several phone calls and emails a day from high school and college teams that would like to use the Skippers’ field. “You totally understand what they’re going through,” he said.

Here’s some even worse news: If spring weather in 2014 and 2015 are similar to 2013, there will be no indoor places to play baseball. The Metrodome will be demolished after the Vikings finish the 2013 season, with a new stadium next door to the dome not opening until 2016.

Temperatures are predicted to warm up in the days ahead, which would provide much-needed relief for all the baseball, softball, track, lacrosse, tennis athletes and golfers who have been patiently practicing indoors.

The Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial baseball teams – both schools are southwest of Mankato -- have been working out inside their gyms, on tennis courts and anywhere else they can find some dry ground.

“It’s been tough.” said Maple River senior shortstop Michael Lewis. “(Monday) was actually the first day we got out on the field. It was still pretty squishy and we were basically playing at about 70 percent. It’s just been tough. You can only take so many cuts off a tee; we need to get out and play.”

Maple River senior third baseman and pitcher Jeremiah Ennen said he was “very excited, very grateful to have this opportunity” to play in the Metrodome. “It’s pretty spectacular.

“It was kind of discouraging to just keep going in the gym and going in the gym,” he said. “To be in here, it just looks huge. We haven’t really been able to get a feel for the outside, the weather, the space. Having a nice environment to play in, where it’s not blowing and cold with snow blowing around, is pretty nice.”

Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial has enough gym space to work on infield drills, hit in a batting cage and use live pitching. Madsen said he checked on the Knights’ field Monday evening, trying to gauge how long it might be before the team can practice and play outdoors.

“Everything was pretty firm,” the coach said. “We have a little bit of snow on the warning track in left field and I don’t know how much frost has come out of the ground. We haven’t had any snow for about a week.”

After Tuesday’s game at the Metrodome, all baseball eyes in Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial were looking to Thursday’s weather. That’s when the two teams are scheduled to play again … on the Knights’ field.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Madsen said.

--To see a photo gallery from the game between Maple River and Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 556
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,789
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Student Media Visits The Wild: “It was a night I will never forget” 4/1/2013
Several members of the MSHSL Student Media program attended recent Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves games as credentialed members of the media. They have written about their experiences and we are happy to share their stories with you …

By Jared Rubado
Brainerd High School

Usually when I go to a Minnesota Wild game, I get to the game an hour before the doors open, go into the Hockey Lodge and wander around, waiting for the gates to rise. I sit there, waiting, watching the Minnesota Wild staff, reporters, janitors, cameramen and so many others who are allowed to go inside before everybody else. I sit there, jealous, wishing time would go faster. On March 3, 2013, I got to be one of the people who walked through early.

I am part of the MSHSL Student Media program. I write about the sporting events at Brainerd High School. Being an aspiring journalist, I want to take any advantage of real-life experiences I can. John Millea, the Student Media advisor, and the Minnesota Wild set up a day in which four students in the program could go to a Wild game and experience what it’s like to be a reporter. In addition to being a lifelong Wild fan I am a hockey player myself, so I was ecstatic that I was chosen to be part of this group.

We all arrived around five o’clock on that Sunday night. The Minnesota High School Press Association had four of their members join us, as well. The public relations representative for the Wild, Ryan Stanzel, was our guide for the night. He escorted us through the press entrance and up to the Al Shaver Press Box to drop off our things. We were then treated to a pizza buffet in the media dining room. While we were eating I noticed the Fox Sports North TV crew at the table next to us. We got a picture with play-by-play broadcaster Anthony LaPanta. (Pictured, left to right: JoNathan Chartrand, Chisago Lakes; Jared Rubado, Brainerd; Anthony LaPanta; Nick Wagner, Ada-Borup; Zach Halverson, White Bear Lake.)

When we were finished we went into a room right next to the Wild locker room where Ryan introduced us to two very important journalists, Michael Russo, the Star Tribune beat writer for the Wild, and Dave Schwartz, the weekend sports anchor for KARE 11. They explained to us the details of their jobs and what it takes to be a journalist. As an aspiring beat writer for a professional sports team, I’ve always looked up to Michael Russo and I was especially appreciative of the opportunity to talk to him.

When we were finished with our meeting, we went back up to the press box to watch the game. Our booth in the press box was a little crowded so I ventured off to look for an extra seat. I sat down in a row of vacant seats. There was one man sitting four chairs to the left of me. I didn't know who he was until I got a good look at him. I was sitting next to Wild goaltender Josh Harding. He was in the press box because he was injured.

When the game was finished, we observed the postgame press conference from Wild coach Mike Yeo. He straightforwardly answered a few questions, wrapping up the evening for those in attendance.

When that was finished it was time to go home. We said our goodbyes and left the Xcel Energy Center. It was a night I will never forget. I left with new insight into the responsibilities of a sports journalist and I am more excited than ever to start my career.
A Growing List Of Accomplished Coaches3/31/2013
In recent weeks I have listed coaches who have led boys and girls teams to state championships in two different sports. The discussion was sparked when Minneota won the Class 1A girls basketball title; Vikings coach Chad Johnston also coached the Minneota football team to the 2009 Class 1A state championship.

Thanks to input from fans all over the state, we can add these other coaches to the list:

--Apple Valley’s Chuck Scanlon: girls hockey and boys soccer.

--Anoka’s Dave Tank: boys basketball and girls soccer.

--Springfield’s Paul Dunn: Football and softball.

--Hopkins’ Ken Novak Jr.: Boys basketball and girls tennis.

--Rochester Lourdes’ Myron Glass: Girls basketball and boys cross-country.

Are there others we can add to the list? If you know of someone, send an email to jmillea@mshsl.org
‘The Epitome Of The Kind Of Person You Want On Your Team’ 3/21/2013
Ben Albert’s line in the boxscore of the DeLaSalle-St. Paul Johnson basketball game Thursday at Target Center was filled with zeros. The 5-foot-11 DeLaSalle senior got into the game only after the outcome had been determined, played four minutes and did not take a shot, commit a foul, block a shot, get a rebound, etc.

But he represents one reason why the Islanders are one of the best teams in Minnesota high school basketball. They defeated St. Paul Johnson 86-59 and will face Austin on Saturday in an attempt to win their second consecutive Class 3A title and third since 2006.

Albert is an atypical basketball player because he has only one hand; his left arm ends at the elbow. But he is a typical DeLaSalle basketball player because he works hard to make his team better. He is one of three seniors on the team, someone coach Dave Thorson calls a leader.

“People get caught up about what Ben doesn’t have but I like Ben because of what he does have,” Thorson said. “He’s a tremendous leadership guy, he’s in the National Honor Society and he will be the valedictorian or salutatorian of his class.”

Ben played in 18 of the Islanders’ 28 games prior to the state tournament, averaging a little more than one point a game.

“He’s made some threes in a whole bunch of games,” Thorson said. “And he’s one of the kids who are so important to our preparation for games like this. We can’t do that without kids who sell out.

“Ben has to guard (DeLaSalle starters) Jarvis (Johnson), James (Lawson), Sacar (Anim) every day in practice and he competes every day. He is absolutely the epitome of the kind of person you want on your team.”

THE VOICE OF HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

When the 2014 boys state basketball tournament is held, something will be very different along press row. Mike Morrissey of KDHL radio in Faribault has made play-by-play calls of every tournament but one since 1968. That’s 45 years, and that’s how legends are made. The 2013 tournament is his last one before retiring.

Mike is truly a legend. He has been the voice of St. Olaf College, a fixture in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and he is a member of Minnesota Coaches Halls of Fame in three sports (football, basketball and baseball).

Mike missed one tournament long ago when he took a radio job in Nebraska. He returned to Minnesota pretty quickly, however. “I was too far away from civilization,” he said.

Mike, 72, will be spending next winter in Florida. He has promised me that he will send me emails during the 2014 tournament, describing warm breezes and the umbrella in his drink.

Thank you, Mike, for being a gentleman, a true professional and a good friend.

STAYING IN CHARACTER

Upsala High School senior Matt Abeler, along with some of his teammates, are busy with basketball this week but will soon return to performing in the school musical. Abeler is the male lead in “High School Musical” … a story in which his character must choose between his basketball success and his love of music.

Four other members of the Cardinals basketball team are also in the cast. All the basketball success has cut down on rehearsal time for the school play, but they’ll get back to the stage after the tournament.

Upsala defeated Battle Lake 71-60 in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena and will play in the semifinals Friday afternoon at Target Center.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--This has been a pretty good winter for the Fadness family of Austin. Kris, the coach of the Packers boys basketball team, recorded his 300th career victory in the Section 1 championship game and on Thursday the Packers advanced to the state championship with a thrilling 85-65 overtime victory over Marshall. His daughter Sela, a junior at Austin, won the Class 1A all-around championship at the state gymnastics meet last month.

--Musically, Thursday’s games at Target Center began in a special way. The bands from DeLaSalle and St. Paul Johnson sat together and teamed up to play “Crazy Train” as the first tune of the day.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 59 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 554
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,739
(*During the 2012-13 school year)