AMATEUR BASEBALL: Blue Ox draw packed crowd for community night

Fans packed the BSU Baseball Field to watch the Bemidji Blue Ox on Sanford Family Night. The crowd wasn’t even discouraged by Bemidji’s 10-9 loss Tuesday to the Marble Mallards.

Mitch Hendricks hands a signed baseball back to Beau Mathiowetz, 8, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, during Blue Ox Baseball Sanford Family Night at the BSU baseball field. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- The ballpark was buzzing for amateur baseball Tuesday night.

Fans packed the BSU baseball field to watch the Bemidji Blue Ox on Sanford Family Night. Several hundred spectators took part in the festivities, including a pregame autograph signing and a chance for kids to run the bases. The crowd wasn’t even discouraged by Bemidji’s 10-9 loss to the Marble Mallards.

“It’s crazy how many people showed up,” player/manager Cody Rutledge said. “That’s the most fans we’ve had in two years with everybody combined.”

“We have an awesome community, and when we can rally around something like this, you can just feel the passion in the building,” said Bemidji first baseman Bazil Zuehlke, who helped organize the event with Sanford Health.

The Blue Ox reached out to Sanford over the offseason about holding a community night. The resulting partnership also resulted in new black uniforms with Sanford sponsorship.


The team hopes to have made baseball fans out of the many children in attendance.

Ranger Ganske has his foam finger signed by Babe, Blue Ox Baseball’s mascot, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, during Blue Ox Baseball Sanford Family Night at the BSU baseball field. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“We had talked about having a community night and just growing the baseball community because it’s such an important thing,” Zuehlke said. “As you could tell with all these little kids out here running around and having fun.”

“It was an awesome experience,” Rutledge said. “And we want to thank Sanford obviously for putting it on.”

Blue Ox starting pitcher Brenden Gillies was perfect through three innings in a strong start for the home team, which held a 2-0 lead after a two-run third. The Mallards quickly tied it back up at 2-2 before Caleb Manecke’s sac fly returned a 3-2 lead to Bemidji in the bottom of the fourth.

Marble tied the game in the fifth and erupted for five runs in the sixth by taking advantage of defensive miscues. Alex McBride’s RBI single drove in the go-ahead run and kicked off the five-run inning.

The Blue Ox responded with three runs in the seventh. However, Wyatt Zuehlke and Lane Gerber belted identical back-to-back solo homers over the left field fence in the eighth to push the Mallards’ lead to 10-6.


Mitch Hendricks cut the gap to 10-8 with his two-run single in the eighth and Ben Thoma made it a one-run game in the ninth after his RBI single. With the tying run on base for Bemidji, Marble retired the final three batters to escape with the win.

Bemidji’s Brenden Gillies throws a pitch in the first inning against the Marble Mallards during Blue Ox Baseball Sanford Family Night on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at the BSU baseball field. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“I thought we played pretty well. Our bats came alive late in the game,” Rutledge said. “But our defense cost us this one.”

Gillies fanned 10 batters but was saddled with the loss after giving up eight runs on seven hits over six innings. Turner Storm pitched three innings in relief and only gave up the two home runs.

Mallards starter John Debord earned the win after pitching six-plus innings while conceding five runs on four hits.

Rutledge, Thoma and Cody Jenkins each notched two hits to lead the home team.

The defeat dropped the Blue Ox to 4-2 on the season. They’ll return to the BSU diamond for a rematch with Marble at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 8.


Despite the loss, players from both teams went home happy after being part of the spirited atmosphere.

“It was lively here and it was a great experience for everybody,” Rutledge said. “Even though we lost, it was still a fun night at the ballpark.”

Marble 10, Blue Ox 9

MAR 000 215 020 -- 10-9-3

BEM 002 100 321 -- 9-9-4

WP: Debord (6+ IP, 5 R, 4 H, 4 K, 6 BB)

LP: Gillies (6 IP, 8 R, 7 H, 10 K, 2 BB)

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at
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