Amateur baseball: Blue Ox roster dominated by former Lumberjacks
BEMIDJI -- When the Bemidji Blue Ox hit the field Aug. 24 for their opening game of the state Class C baseball tournament in Belle Plaine, fans who have followed Bemidji baseball will be very familiar with the names on the roster.
In 2012 the Bemidji Lumberjacks put together a memorable season that culminated with a trip to the state Class 3A championship game at Target Field. BHS dropped that game 1-0 to Eastview and, although the loss stung the players and coaches, it could not detract from the historic spring.
The 2012 roster was dominated by seniors who enjoyed success throughout their high school athletic careers. At the time, many of them thought that their experiences together on a field, rink, or court were over. But they were wrong.
Many of the 2012 Lumberjacks have joined forces once again and have resurfaced as key players for the Blue Ox.
“Some of us played together last summer for the Bemidji Mudcats but this year we decided to join the Blue Ox,” said Cody Rutledge who was one of the key contributors to the 2012 high school baseball team’s success.
“We love it that we are back together. Playing with the Blue Ox, and getting ready to play in another state tournament, brings back some great high school memories.”
Rutledge handles the designated hitting duties for the Blue Ox and is one of seven members of the 2012 high school team who will represent Bemidji at the state amateur tournament. Earlier this summer he injured his elbow while pitching and since that incident Rutledge has been unable to play defense at his accustomed high level.
Among his 2012 Lumberjacks and 2014 Blue Ox teammates are infielders Cody Jenkins, Connor McNallan, Sam Dwyer and Mitch Hendricks, outfielder Nick Hovila and pitcher/outfielder Collin Rutledge.
Other recent BHS graduates who have made major contributions to the Blue Ox this summer include 2011 graduate Ryan Stevens and Gabe Salander who graduated last spring. Also on the roster are former Lumberjacks Simon Anderson, Sol Schneider and Chris Conway plus coach/catcher Matt Baier and pitcher/infielder Ryan Sander.
Baier and Sander both moved to Bemidji to play baseball at BSU. Baier was raised in Springfield which is west of Sleepy Eye. He played seven seasons of amateur baseball in Springfield and, after a few years attending Rochester Community College, transferred to BSU to play infield for the Beavers.
“Earlier this summer we were looking to field a Blue Ox team and then some of the Bemidji kids came along and they brought some of their friends,” Baier said. “Now we have 12 or 13 guys who are excited to come to the field and eager to play the game.
“These kids love playing baseball. And the veterans on the team also love playing the game.”
Most of the former Lumberjacks on the Blue Ox roster are not familiar with a state amateur baseball tournament but they are not strangers to playing baseball against the best.”
“We all have experience with the high school state tournament,” Rutledge said. “We’ve faced quality pitchers before and we’ve had success against them. We’re not going to be afraid of anybody we play against.”
Bemidji drew a bye in the first round of the state tournament and the Region 10C champion will begin its quest for a state title 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 24 against either Jordan or Luxemburg. Jordan is a traditional participant in the state tournament and is favored to beat Luxemburg. And, if Jordan does advance to play the Blue Ox, it will also be favored by most who follow Minnesota amateur baseball to beat Bemidji.
“But being an underdog doesn’t bother us,” Rutledge said. “We haven’t been to the state (amatuer tournament) in a long time and no one knows much about us. We are a good baseball team and we will go to Belle Plaine with confidence and ready to play our game.”
Baier also expects the Blue Ox to catch a few teams by surprise.
“Ryan (Sander) and I both have experience at the state amateur tournament and the Bemidji kids all have the great experience of playing in the high school tournament,” Baier said. “We’re not new to playing baseball at a high level and, hopefully, our experience will help us.”