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BASEBALL: Blackduck's Bales appreciates opportunity to play in state tournament again

Blackduck captains Colton Bales (right) and Dylan Weisert spoke during Tuesday’s community sendoff for the Drakes baseball team. Blackduck will face Osakis 3 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the state tournament in Jordan. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 3
The community of Blackduck had a send-off celebration for their baseball team as they compete at the state level for the second year in a row. Shown above, Coach Dwight Kalvig receives a high five from Terry Pater on Tuesday morning. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 3
Blackduck baseball captains Shane Fenske, Mitch Sparby, Colton Bales and Dylan Weisert walk the gauntlet of family and friends during a community send-off Tuesday morning as they head to the state baseball playoffs. Blackduck will take on Osakis at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 3

BLACKDUCK — Colton Bales admits to being a small-town kid who appreciates baseball and looks forward to playing the game in quality ballparks.

The Blackduck junior will be behind the plate Thursday when the 18-2 Drakes face 18-2 Osakis in the opening round of the state Class A baseball tournament in Jordan.

Baseball is part of the town fabric in southern Minnesota and the game in that part of the state is a component of the community’s culture. And the parks reflect that reverence.

“We have a very nice park in Blackduck but playing a game on a field that is state-tournament quality is something special,” Bales said. “And I’m very happy that we are playing our games in a small-town setting instead of at a place like Midway Stadium in St. Paul.”

Last year Bales and the Drakes went 1-2 at the state tournament and all of their games were played a few miles north of Jordan at the park in Chaska. Although Chaska also is home to a southern Minnesota landmark ball park, Blackduck would prefer to spend Thursday and Friday in Jordan.

The tournament schedule has all of Thursday’s first-round games in Jordan. Jordan will also be the site of Friday’s championship semifinals and the third-place game.

Thursday’s losers, however, will head to Chaska on Friday for consolation play.

Osakis is a newcomer to the state tournament experience while Blackduck is making its second straight appearance. Bales believes being in the tournament last spring will be a major advantage on Thursday.

“Last year we were like a scared puppy but being here once before should put us ahead of the teams that weren’t,” Bales said. “Last year we were a little shaky at the start of the first game but this year I think we’ll be ready to go. Once we get on the field it will be just another game.”

Bales is one of the team’s four captains and he shares that role with Mitch Sparby, Shane Fenske and Dylan Weisert.

He said that being a captain on this team is not difficult because the players are family and are all working for the same cause.

But the captains are there when their guidance can be a benefit.

“As a captain we keep the team in line but, really, we don’t have too many problems with that,” Bales said. “On the field we try to keep the players focused and be a leader.”

And, because of his role as the starting catcher, Bales has many opportunities to lead by example.

“I love being the catcher. I wouldn’t want to play any place else,” Bales said.

“Nothing starts, nothing happens without you in the middle of it. As a catcher you have a direct line to everything that happens on the field.”

A year ago Blackduck qualified for the state baseball tournament for the first time in the program’s history. All associated with Drakes baseball would like a trip to Jordan to become an annual event but Bales understands that state tournament appearances cannot be taken for granted.

“It’s something special,” Bales said. “Even just being able to say that we are in the final eight of Class A baseball in the state is an honor.

“And it is amazing to think that I’m one of the last 24 catchers in the entire state still playing baseball.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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