HIBBING — It took five months, but baseball is back in Hibbing.
The Hibbing Senior Babe Ruth baseball team, which ranges in age from 14 to 19, takes the field today to take on Ely in a 7:30 p.m., contest at Al Nyberg Field.
It’s been a long time in coming, but for the 26 players on the team, which is being coached by Adam Schafer, Andy Kolden and Chris Hanson, getting back on the field is a blessing, and they’re looking forward to the challenge.
One player in particular, Cole Mammenga, is grateful for this opportunity.
Mammenga had his college season wiped out, but he’s going on to play at the University of Minnesota-Morris in the fall. This opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time for Mammenga.
“It feels good to be back out there, with our season getting canceled,” Mammenga said. “It gives me a chance to get some mound time and some practice time to get fine tuned for this fall.
“I’m excited to get going.”
Excited is an understatement. It’s more ecstatic.
“They missed out on the spring, and if you ask a lot of these seniors, they felt like they had a good opportunity taken away from them,” Schafer said. “They felt they had a competitive team coming back.
“Legion canceled later in the spring, and that was disappointing as well. You got to wondering if there was going to be any baseball at all. This opportunity arose, and the amount of kids coming out to participate shows that they’re excited to play baseball.”
Mammenga is happy they extended that playing age to allow him to compete.
“That was huge,” Mammenga said. “Ryley Lund, Schafer texted him and asked him to play, then he referred me, so Schafer reached out to me and said they had bumped the age limit up a little bit.
“I was excited about that.”
The team held its first practice about two weeks ago, so they had to shake off some of the rust that had built up during the down time.
“That was to be expected,” Schafer said. “They had a few throwing sessions in the gym before they got shut down. To immediately end up on the big field and have four practices to get ready for the first game, it’s expected for them to be rusty when they haven’t thrown a baseball for so many months.”
With so many players, Schafer has split them up into two teams. One of the teams will play in this game, then the second team will play Monday against Grand Rapids.
“I’m expecting them to be excited and enthusiastic about playing baseball again,” Schafer said. “I’m expecting them to compete. We did divide them into two teams. I’m not sure which team will play today, but regardless of who it is, they will be energetic to be on the diamond, playing a competitive game.”
Pitching-wise, Hibbing should be tough on the mound.
“With just the numbers, you’re going to have pitching,” Schafer said. “When we worked out the pitchers last week, and we had 12 total pitchers. That department is strong.”
Around the infield, Schafer will have three catchers, three first basemen and two at second, short and third.
“That made it easy to split this group into two, just knowing you had someone at each position,” Schafer said. “There is depth in that regard. The outfield, there’s quite a few of them.
“Now it’s a matter if all 13 are going to show up on one day, and all 13 show up on the next day. There’s a lot of depth everywhere when you have 26 guys. We’re trying to make sure that everyone who came out gets a chance to play and get some innings.”
Offensively, that’s where Hibbing might need the most work.
“That’s why we did a split-squad scrimmage Tuesday,” Schafer said. “We wanted to get them in the box to see some live pitching, and our pitchers get to see some live batters.
“It takes major leaguers a month to get ready, and they play 30 games before their season starts. Expecting us to be full bore in three weeks isn’t realistic, but they will be excited to be out here. They will put their best foot forward.”
As far as Ely goes, Schafer has seen enough of them to know they’re a fundamentally-sound team.
“They’re historically competitive,” he said. “They play the game hard. They always have athletes there. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I expect them to be the same way.
“They’re usually defensively sound, they have guys that throw strikes and they put the ball in play. I would anticipate a competitive game.”
Mammenga is hoping that the team he is on gets that first chance to play.
“I want to get back on the field, and obviously, I had some teammates that I played with at the college and high school on the team this year,” Mammenga said. “Being able to get back with those guys and play ball is going to be great.”