HIBBING — The Hibbing Miners baseball team did something it had never done before during the 2018 season.
What was it that had never happened in the previous 11 years that the team had been in existence? Well, while Miners player/manager Jamie Steinberg would have preferred that it had happened years earlier, the summer of 2018 was the first time that the Miners had earned a berth in the state tournament.
Hibbing will be on a quest to make the state tournament twice in a row when it opens its season today at Nyberg Field in Hibbing in a split doubleheader against two teams. The first game starts at 3 p.m. against the Rum River Bandits with the second time set to start at 6 p.m. against the East Bethel Bandits.
“I think everybody would want the state tournament to be an annual event, especially after you experienced it for the first time. I think a lot of our guys that were there last year were taken back by how big it is and what kind of a situation they are involved in,” Steinberg said. “I think it is a stepping stone for our program in our current roster of guys being able to spread the word of what it’s like to get there and what it’s like when you are there. Hopefully that can be handed down to newer players that we bring in and that can cause a snowball effect for years to come.
“That’s what I am looking at when it comes to this team moving forward.”
The Miners started the 2018 season in sizzling fashion but came out of the Fourth of July break not the same team. Steinberg feels the break took away the team’s edge.
“A lot of guys came back not ready to hit, not ready to do some of the things that they were doing on the level before,” Steinberg said. “Then I think we found ourselves, we stepped it up in the playoffs to do what we needed to do to make the state tournament for the first time ever. It was quite the success story for us at the end of the year because the state tournament was not how we anticipated it to go.
“Overall it was a banner year for us last year.”
Up until last season, Steinberg said it has been tough to get the core group of Miners players to make every game which has ultimately hurt the team. However, the manager said that changed last season.
“Attendance is the big factor in being successful and I didn’t have to worry a lot about attendance last year,” Steinberg explained. “If your problem is minimal in that category, you are going to be very successful. I thought that was one of the best things about the team last year, that the core guys all were there all the time.
“We have a lot of the same guys back this year and I am thinking those specific individuals will carry the same mentality that they did last year,” Steinberg said. “ I am looking for possibly bigger and better things for this team going into the 2019 season.”
Some of the key players returning are Trevor Bernsdorf of Meadowlands who Steinberg said does everything but pitch for the Miners, No. 1 pitcher/first baseman Matt Erickson, a Hibbing native who Steinberg said is a very key component to the team, pitcher Dan Wood of Cotton who will also be very instrumental to the success of the team, and positional players catcher/third baseman Joe Lescarbeau, Chisholm, catcher Jaiman Lamphere, Hibbing, outfielder/pitcher Joe Kanipes, Hibbing, and designated hitter Kole Zuidmulder, Hibbing.
Other members of the team include left fielder Dylan Mattson, Hibbing, pitcher Nick Pecha, Mt. Iron, pitcher Josh Sprague, Chisholm, third baseman Gage Merhar, Ely, pitcher/first baseman Steinberg, Hibbing, second baseman/pitcher Chanler Dilday, Hibbing, designated hitter Jayson Hron, Duluth, shortstop/pitcher Eli Sundquist, Chisholm, pitcher/third baseman Kyle Maki, Virginia, pitcher Joe Gonrowski, Superior, Wis., utility player Zack Bandemer, Hibbing, utility player Adam Schafer, Hibbing, pitcher/first baseman Zack DeBoom, Hibbing, and third baseman/outfielder Jeff Korpi, Pengilly.
“We have added a few players that I think will strengthen us,” Steinberg said. “There is no doubt in my mind that you always have to be on the lookout for that every year. It is a key to every team in amateur baseball, I think, that helps them to get the gains they are looking for in the season.”
Hibbing will be playing in Class C in this year in Minnesota amateur baseball and will compete in the Eastern Minny League. The league is based out of the Hinckley area and is comprised of 13 teams. The league is broken up into two divisions with the Northern Division being made up of five teams and the Southern Division consisting of eight teams.
Hibbing, which is in the Northern Division, teams in the South Division once during the regular season. It will play teams in the Northern Division twice and this computes out to a 16-game league schedule for the Miners. Three out of the five teams in the Northern Divison advance to the league playoffs while five of the eight teams in the Southern Division will advance to make up an eight-team division regional tournament which is a two-weekend tournament. The final three teams left standing in that tournament will advance to the Class C state tournament.
Hinckley will be the site of all tournament action, according to Steinberg.
Along with getting the players to attend games, another big factor in how the Miners will do this season is how healthy the pitching staff remains. Steinberg said that if the Miners’ pitching staff can stay healthy, and with the expected good defense behind that pitching, the Miners will do well.
“It’s our pitching that will take us as far as we go,” Steinberg said. “We had a health issue last year that kind of hindered us at the end but the bottom line is we need attendance and a healthy pitching staff.”
Steinberg feels the two teams in the Northern Division to be concerned about most are Mora and Hinckley. In the Southern Division, he feels Isanti and Princeton will be the top teams at this time.
Steinberg has been player/manager of Hibbing since the team’s inception. Now in his 14th season at age 41, he said he continues to play because he loves the game and that it also inspires the younger players on the team. He admits that he never anticipated playing as long as he has.
“I was kind of thinking by now I would be transitioning to manager but I will say over the past handful of years a lot of my players speak very highly to me personally about staying in the game and contributing and playing,” Steinberg said. “Plus, my body still feels pretty good to be able to play. When you are my age you get some soreness and you go through some tough days to recuperate. But I look at it as a blessing right now to be able to be doing what I am doing when it comes to this team.”