It was just an intersquad scrimmage between friends on Wednesday night, but it was a baseball game being played at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark.
Every game played this summer is an opportunity to prepare for next spring. A lot of the guys on the field on Wednesday will be big pieces to what the Cardinals’ varsity team looks like in 2021 if seasons are indeed back on as normal by then.
“We have a pretty talented group of baseball players, so I think when we put those two teams on the field, realistically it’s some of the better competition we can face when it comes to pitching and at-bats,” Alexandria head coach Jake Munsch said. “We just want to see improvement on the things we’re working on in practice. We haven’t been given a lot of time, but we are seeing improvement.”
Alexandria has three teams in an independent shortened summer league that was created in June when teams were given the OK to start practicing and now compete during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group consisting of soon-to-be juniors and seniors split up to take on each other at 5 p.m. on Wednesday before the youngest of the three teams did the same at 7.
The home team of the older group got the better of things in a 10-2 game. Nate Hammerback had an RBI sacrifice fly to start the scoring in the first inning.
Tyler Petron had an RBI single in the second before a four-run third, with Will Heydt picking up an RBI sacrifice fly in that frame. Devin Swerman broke things open in the fourth inning with a two-run double to the warning track in center field. He laced another single in his next at-bat.
“Devin swung the bat really well tonight,” Munsch said. “He’s a player who can play multiple positions and a guy who’s going to pitch for us. When you talk about hitting, one thing I do really like about this team is they can hit the ball up and down the lineup. Physically, we’re a little small. It will be nice to put on a little weight over the winter time and be able to push the ball around the park a little bit more. I’m encouraged by the hitting of this team.”
J.D. Hennen, a sophomore this past school year, started for the home team on the mound and went four strong innings to earn the win. The hard-throwing righty allowed just two hits and no runs, while striking out six.
“We’re trying to get better on what we’ve been working on in practice, which is fielding the ball and throwing strikes as pitchers,” Hennen said. “We want to just throw strikes and let our defense make plays for us. That was my main focus today on the mound. Not try to strike people out all the time. Just let them put the ball in play.”
Hennen has struggled to find the strike zone a couple times earlier this summer, so Munsch was encouraged by what he saw from a player who will likely be looked upon to help out next spring.
“It was encouraging to see him tonight throw strikes that allowed our defense to work,” Munsch said. “We’re hoping some of our other pitchers can improve in that aspect too, but J.D. has done a good job for us, and we’re excited for his future.”
These players have a chance to see how they stack up against some other teams from around the area. Alexandria has played opponents from Detroit Lakes, Perham, and Moorhead this July. They have lost just one game against Moorhead in a doubleheader, while taking care of business pretty handily the rest of the time.
“I think the biggest benefits are just knowing where our team is at and getting a head start on next year’s varsity season,” Hennen said. “Usually in the summer, we wouldn’t have this because Munsch would be coaching the seniors (in Legion). So it’s nice to get a jump on a varsity season and see where we’re at compared to other teams that we’ll be playing next year.”
Hennen is part of a class of soon-to-be juniors that has seen success on the diamond coming through the Alexandria system. This is a chance to showcase what they can do in front of the varsity coaches they will work with next year.
“We’ve always said from the beginning of this that this is not a tryout,” Munsch said. “But if you want to look at it that way, in the spring we only give kids four days to prove to us what they can do. Now we’re giving them a summer and a chance as best we can with 23 guys to show us what they can do. We see some bright spots in some players and surprises in some players that we thought would do a little better. That’s the nature of the beast.”
Teams have just a few weeks left of summer baseball before this opportunity is over. Alexandria is set on soaking up a chance to improve while it has it.
“We talk a lot about not just the fundamental part of baseball, but learning the game,” Munsch said. “Thinking about the situations and always explaining why we’re doing something. Trying to make the kids get to a point where if we ask them a question, they can tell us why we’re doing it. We want to rep things so many times that it just becomes ingrained in what they do. That’s what we’re really working on this summer is learning the game and the situational part of it.”