AMATEUR BASEBALL: Bringing it back: Wabasso’s new town ball team was nearly fifty years in the making
WABASSO – After beginning their inaugural amateur baseball season earlier this spring, the Wabasso Jaxx became the first amateur baseball team in Wabasso since 1972.
The Jaxx are one of eight teams to play in the Corn Belt League, which consists of teams like the Willmar Rails, the Sacred Heart Saints, the Raymond Rockets, the Marshall A’s, the Milroy Yankees, the Granite Falls Kilowatts and the Bird Island Bullfrogs. Coached by Corey Theis, a current Redwood Falls resident, Wabasso has a team that is well spread out in youth and experience and features players from Wabasso, Redwood Falls, Vesta, Clements, Marshall, Tracy and Lucan. That being said, a new team can always expect to hit some bumps in the road early on and have things to learn.
“I would say it’s a pretty good mix, we’re pretty young,” Theis said. “I’ve got a couple of older guys that have played many years but just kind of put the spikes back on after about six years of not playing. So I’ve got one guy close to the 40s and couple guys in their 30s and older 20s, but then I’ve got some high school kids that just graduated that want to play right out of high school. And my son [CJ] is playing and is in his second year in college for Bethany [Lutheran College]. He’s my only college player right now, but we just scrapped together a team … amateur league baseball is a lot different than high school and college ball even, so it’s a learning curve for these kids.”
Bringing amateur baseball back to Wabasso has Theis and several baseball fans in Wabasso and its surrounding communities excited because it opens more opportunities for players to continue playing in the summer close to home. It also gives local fans some summer baseball fun again.
“It’s a great thing for any community,” Theis said. “I thought about it yesterday [June 23], we were playing Milroy, which is 15 minutes away from us and they’ve got 27 guys on their roster and we’ve got 23-24. That’s 50 players within a 15-mile radius in just that small rural area. So there’s kids and guys that want to keep playing, and having a team to go to is big. … I see all these little kids around the ballpark and I remember being one of those guys and these amateur guys were kind of your role model, your hero, kind of watching them play. It grows the interest for the whole community.
“So our little youth baseball in Wabasso and even Redwood and all over, I see the numbers increasing because of the town teams and the high school, Legion, VFW, so that’s pretty cool to see.”
How the Jaxx
The idea of bringing an amateur baseball team back to the community was discussed by the Wabasso Area Baseball Association (WABA) ever since making plans to construct a new field in Wabasso. After about two years of planning and construction for the idea of building a new baseball field in Wabasso to come to fruition, the new city field was completed and opened in 2016.
With the field ready to play on, secretary of the WABA and current head coach of the Wabasso Rabbits’ baseball team Chad Olson said that getting an amateur team in Wabasso again was something that much of the community wanted to see.
“The Wabasso amateur team had been a part of the conversation since we began making plans for building a new baseball field in Wabasso,” Olson said. “It was part of the idea that if we wanted to add lights to the field, the community would really like to see a town ball team. Everybody on the baseball association agreed that it would be nice to see Wabasso keep its baseball talent at home.”
And so the Jaxx, a name selected as a play on the high school’s Wabasso Rabbits, were born and began play this season. The “Xs” were added to stand out from the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits.
Tony Kramer, former president of the WABA and current member, also added that he thinks that the field was mainly built for the high school team to play on, but with more buzz in the community and within the WABA about an amateur team, the seeds were planted. He also said that finding a team manager was what made everything come together.
“I think, initially, this whole thing was more for the high school, to make sure that the high school had a field to play on,” Kramer said. “And we just assumed that in time, if it got built the way that we thought it would and if it looked as good as we felt it would, eventually there would be an amateur team that would start up. The main thing is that we just had to find someone that wanted to do it, and we were lucky to find Corey Theis to step forward to be the manager, and that’s just kind of how it all evolved right from there. There was just a lot of people that said, ‘We’ve got to get a team here, we’ve got to get a team here,’ and we were all for it, of course, but there was nobody [originally] that wanted to play part of manager or anything like that.”
The field couldn’t have been completed without numerous generous donations and support, though. The WABA received a $10,000 grant from the Twins Community Fund, a $10,000 grant from the Five Star Foundation, and the field project also got a large donation from an anonymous donor.
“We had a lot of donors that really wanted to see this happen and some people that were good at construction that could make this happen, too, and they said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Kramer said. “So the seed just had to be planted, let’s see what we can do here, and the money came forward and that’s how it happened. Somebody had to get it moving a little bit and our baseball association got it going. … And a lot of time, material and just effort. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on how much is in there because there’s just so much donated time and seating and dugouts and different things that people have put into it.”
As for where the field is located, 2014 W Main St., that land was donated by the Wabasso Economic Development Association.
The Jaxx have had a tough first season so far and picked up their first win on June 14 at home against Eagle Lake 8-7. Despite the early struggles, Olson said that he thinks the team has played well and been in position to win games.
“This year’s team is made up of many former Wabasso High School players who probably haven’t seen action in 5-10 years, along with a few guys from the Redwood Falls area and others,” Olson said. “Considering that, I feel the team is doing a nice job, they have been in position to win several games and they even got that difficult first win out of the way.”
The Jaxx have their final regular season home game scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Sunday against Granite Falls.
In 1972, Wabasso had its final amateur baseball season for more than 45 years. In 1972, the Wabasso amateur baseball team played in the Southwestern Minny League against Milroy, Tracy, Ivanhoe, Wanda and Ghent. It was a tough final season for Wabasso, finishing 1-9 in the regular season before being eliminated from the playoffs after a pair of losses to Tracy, the season champions of the SW Minny League that year.
Jim Guetter played on that 1972 team and said that he remembers playing with some of the better players in the area despite having just one win during the season.
“The players I remember playing with was Tom Breyfogle and Leo Grossman, those were the guys I really remember playing with those years,” Guetter said. “We started the team up again and I came back and played a little first base. It’s hard to remember a lot of things, but we kind of put it together and played where the JV baseball field is now, by the football field in Wabasso. We fixed that up a little bit and played there. We played teams like Milroy, Ghent, Wanda had a team … I don’t think we were very good or won a lot of games [laughs]. … I remember that year because that was the year that we got fastpitch softball going, too. Myself and Leo Grossman both played fastpitch softball, too, that year and we went to state. Softball was pretty successful a couple years there.”
As for why it’s been more than 45 years since amateur baseball has been in Wabasso, Kramer said that a field to play on was likely a primary reason, along with the growing popularity of fastpitch softball in the 70s and the 80s in Redwood County.
“One thing in Redwood County that was quite popular in the 70s and 80s and 90s even was fastpitch softball,” Kramer said. “So there was a lot of people that were playing fastpitch softball, so there weren’t as many baseball teams. And Wabasso was kind of the center of the teams in the league, so a lot of the talent was there. That might have been part of it … there were a few players that played fastpitch that also played with teams like Milroy, I’m guessing from Wabasso and some of the surrounding teams that did, too.”
Guetter agreed that fastpitch softball took up a lot of attention in the 70s and caused amateur baseball in Wabasso to decline.
“A lot of the thing was fastpitch softball,” Guetter said. “That really got pretty big at that time. That took off and baseball kind of died out a little bit in Wabasso until we got it going again this year.”
A lack of players also made it hard for Wabasso amateur baseball.
“And number of players – there’s 20-some players on the Jaxx roster,” Guetter said. “At that time , we had a hard time to get enough players, there wasn’t a lot of guys on the bench. If you showed up, you got to play. That was pretty much the difference. That’s part of the reason that it’s hard to keep it going. To have a good amateur program, you need players to come up because it’s hard to get players at the game all the time with everything else going on. But that was main thing I noticed, that it was harder to get players at that time.”
Guetter’s son, Josh, now plays for the current Wabasso amateur team, and Guetter said that he really likes amateur baseball and is glad that he gets to see amateur games again in Wabasso. Guetter’s nephew, Sam, also plays with the Jaxx.
“It’s fun for me because I’ve always loved baseball, and since we didn’t have a baseball team, I played fastpitch softball, which was the closest I could get to baseball,” Guetter said. “It’s always been fun to watch my sons play in high school, too, and now for [Josh] to come back and play a little bit of amateur ball, I’ve always liked amateur ball. I watched it over the years, and my youngest son had played in Lamberton for years, so I was out watching the games. And with the kids growing up, playing midgets, and Legions, and VFW and stuff – I enjoy baseball and I enjoy the amateur part of it. It’s always fun.”