BEMIDJI -- Whether you fancy folklore or have misgivings of mythology, there’s no denying that Centaurs are real in Bemidji.
“I don’t know (where it came from). I have no idea,” Grant DeClusin said. “I just know that I’m a Centaur.”
“It’s just always been there to us,” JD Kondos added. “I like it. … It makes us stand out.”
The Bemidji American Legion baseball team has one of the most unique nicknames in the Northland, and it’s legendary without being legend. The name has deep origins and later received an integral revival from a new generation, both of which have “the Centaurs” feeling like a household name around the ballpark.
While many of today’s players accept the moniker as the norm, “the Centaurs” had to start somewhere.
In 1995, that legend of the Legion was born.
“A lot of other Legion teams in the state had nicknames, so we decided we needed one. For nothing else, just to make it easier for the paper,” said Jim Grimm, a former Legion coach who managed Bemidji’s first group of Centaurs. “We threw around a few names. … We thought the combination of brains, strength and speed (of a centaur) would be an appropriate nickname for our team. So that’s what we went with.”
A centaur, which has the head, arms and torso of a human and the body and legs of a horse, comes from Greek mythology. Like its literature counterpart, however, Bemidji’s nickname faded into history not long after it came about.
Constant coaching changes and consistent turnover contributed to the name falling into obscurity, Grimm said. Eventually, the Centaurs nickname was as common as the beasts themselves.
“They had so many coaches, they didn’t even know who they were,” Grimm said.
But that changed in 2016, when the nickname was revived within the Post 14 program. Grimm -- involved again with the team as his son, Otto, came through -- told the origin story to some of the players of the time.
“Five years ago, we were just ‘Bemidji,’” said Nate Blumhagen, the team’s head coach since 2013. “We had a fun group of guys who wanted something a little extra. That’s the identity of what that group was. For them to learn that piece of information and to bring that back (is cool).”
And so the Centaurs were reborn. The revival also coincided with a run to the state tournament, something Bemidji is trying to do for the first time since that 2016 season.
“We know we can make a good run and move on to state,” DeClusin said. “Just staying loose, that’s the key. In school ball, we were a little tight. I think if we can stay loose and play our game, we’ll do well.”
The Centaurs enter the playoffs with the sub-state’s top seed in hand. They’ll face eighth-seeded Thief River Falls at 1:30 p.m. today in Fergus Falls in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament. The winners bracket semifinals are set for 4 p.m. Thursday, July 22, with the winners bracket final at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 23.
The championship series begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24. If necessary, a winner-take-all final will start at noon on Sunday, July 25.
“We feel like we can do it. (The title) feels close,” Kondos said. “We’re really confident. We’re doing pretty good, so I feel like our heads are in it.”
A smart selection
While centaurs may not be roaming out in the wild, Bemidji’s mascot befits a program trying to adopt the same character traits.
“It’s a big deal to establish an identity. It’s something you can be proud of,” Grimm said. “And you can almost assign (our nickname) to how we play: We want to be smart, we want to be fast, we want to be strong.”
At 22-4, the team has shown as much during the regular season. Now, Bemidji is within reach of its first state berth in five years.
“Guys know what they need to do,” Blumhagen said. “They’re a pretty goal-oriented group, aside from just being relaxed and chill. … There will be a few nerves like there always is in playoff baseball right away. Hopefully someone cracks a double early, and I think it’ll be OK from there.”
Second-seeded Moorhead, third-seeded Perham and fourth-seeded Alexandria fill out the remaining top half of the eight-team field. The target is sure to rest on Bemidji’s back as the top seed, but that won’t scare away any Centaurs.
“We’ve learned how to win games in different ways,” Blumhagen said. “We’ve been through the adversity, we’ve been through the fire.”
And whatever happens this postseason, Grimm knows one thing for sure: Centaurs of old will be turning to the papers to find out how the boys fared.
“A great thing about having a nickname that spans the test of time is that it gives alumni a chance to identify with the team,” Grimm said. “We’re many years away from when the Centaurs first came out, and all those guys who played for the Centaurs in the past can look in the Pioneer and say, ‘Hey, how are the Centaurs doing?’ Everyone knows who it is.”