Carter Howell sees career come full circle at Alexandria Beetles throwback night
Carter Howell, a former batboy for the Carlos Cougars amateur baseball team, returned to his childhood home town to play in the annual Alexandria Beetles Northwoods League game on Thursday night at Knute Nelson Memorial Park and made a huge impact in an 11-9 win for is current team, the Willmar Stingers.
Carter Howell grew up spending time on the baseball fields around the Douglas County area, and it was always a treat to catch his hometown Alexandria Beetles.
On Thursday night, the Willmar Stingers played their annual game back in Alexandria as the Willmar Northwoods League baseball team beat the Bismarck Larks 11-9 at Knute Nelson Memorial Park.
The Alexandria Beetles played in the NWL from 2001 through 2012 before an ownership change resulted in a name change to the Blue Anchors in 2013. The Blue Anchors lasted a few seasons before Alexandria lost its NWL team shortly after the 2015 summer.
Willmar Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz, a former general manager for the Beetles, makes it a point to bring his current team back to Alexandria for a game each summer.
Howell started in centerfield for the Beetles on Thursday night, but the nostalgia trip began when he got off the bus. After slipping on his No. 15 Alexandria jersey, he looked back into the grandstand during the pregame festivities. He thought about how far he’d come since he last saw a Northwoods league game in Alexandria.
“As soon as I saw the (Beetles) jerseys, it all kind of sunk in for me,” Howell said. “When I was going to the games as a kid, I always wanted to do this. I wanted to be in this league and play for the Beetles. It was a great opportunity, and I’m going to remember this forever.”
As a kid, Howell was always around the diamond. His dad, Chris, played town ball for the Carlos Cougars. Carter was in and out of the dugout as the team batboy. On Thursday night, his dad, along with family, friends, and former Cougars players, watched Howell play.
“I had a bunch of people in the crowd with me tonight watching me wear this purple and white jersey,” Howell said. “It meant the world to me to share this night with them.”
When Howell was in elementary school, his family moved to Moorhead, but his grandparents stayed in the area. Family trips back to his hometown often led to Beetles games.
In his youth baseball days, Howell played games as the road team at Knute Nelson Memorial Ballpark but never sat in the home dugout. His first game as part of the home team could not have gone much better on Thursday. He went 3-for-4 with a triple, a walk, two runs scored and five RBIs to lead his team to the win.
“When you play a 70-game season, it’s hard to get those butterflies for every game,” Howell said. “I felt them tonight. They were definitely there. I felt good out there too. I came in trying to do my job, and we got it done.”
Howell plays in the outfield at Augustana University— one of the best Division II programs in the country. The Vikings finished the 2021 season with a 36-13 record and a first-round exit in the regional tournament.
Howell, a redshirt junior, had a breakout season this spring. He started all 49 games and hit for a .423 batting average in 247 at-bats. Howell also belted 12 long balls and used his speed to snag five triples.
“I really didn’t expect to have that kind of season,” Howell said. “I just wanted to work hard and help my team win. It’s just how it turned out to be. The season didn’t end the way we wanted it, but that’s the way baseball goes.”
The road to college baseball wasn’t easy. In high school, he became a three-sport athlete for the Spuds. Despite being a successful football and hockey player, baseball was always his end game.
Howell had his doubts about making an impact at Augustana. As a freshman in 2018, he was part of a deep team that won the school’s first National Championship. But concerns about being undersized and competing with the team’s top recruits for playing time were prevalent.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Howell said. “I was pretty undersized coming in as a freshman. There are a lot of talented players that don’t get a ton of playing time there. I’m just trying to keep getting better. It’s a great culture (at Augustana). I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my teammates and my coaches there. A lot of it is just believing in yourself and putting your trust in the people that can make a difference.”
Howell’s breakout year earned him a spot on the Willmar Stingers. The Northwoods League features some of the top college baseball players from around the country.
“It’s an accumulation of a lot of hard work,” Howell said. “It’s hard not to have doubts about where you’re at with your career when things aren’t going the way you want them to go. There were times I didn’t think I’d get the chance to play in this league because it’s such a good, competitive group of players. But I worked my butt off to get here, and I’m going to keep going.”
Despite a scare in the top of the ninth inning, Howell and the Beetles held on for the win. After the post-game fireworks, his teammates rushed to grab food before the bus took off for Willmar. But Howell wanted to spend his last moments on a familiar field with the people who made Thursday night so special.
“I haven’t seen a lot of them in a while,” Howell said. “We’re on the road a lot, but when you get moments like that in this game, you don’t forget them. It was just an awesome night that I’m never going to forget."