What Nitz meant to us: a collection of letters

By Brad Salmen
Sports Reporter
Below are excerpts from over 70 letters submitted to the Minnesota Baseball Association, in support of Jeff Neutzling being inducted into the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Before I was old enough to be a bat boy for the Farming Flames, my father, Elmer, let me observe their games and practices from the dugout. One night while watching an exhibition against the Avon Lakers, I watched what I thought was the best player I’d ever seen in my 7 years of living.
“After that game, that player listened to my dad explain some finer points of the game. On the way home, I told Dad how good he was. Dad’s reply was, ‘Jeff Neutzling is an awfully good player, but more importantly, he’s a lot better person.’
“For 25 years of being the Albany Huskies pitching coach, I’ve passed along the same pitching techniques and philosophies ‘Coach Nitz’ shared with me a long time ago.
“To this day, Jeff still asks me about his beloved Huskies.”  – Pete Schleper, Albany HS

“His resume speaks for itself, both as an amateur player and coach. He was a tremendous teammate during my time at the University of Minnesota as we shared the experience of a College World Series appearance.
“But it doesn’t stop there.
“Jeff has gone over and above with his contributions to the community. Whether it be taking care of the fields, creating programs, or mentoring youth 1-on-1, his positive influence has gone on for decades.
“Always selfless, putting others before himself, and all this while dealing with tremendous tragedy in his personal life.
“Now is the time to have Jeff inducted.” – Paul Molitor, U of M, MLB Hall of Fame 2004.
“I first met Jeff Neutzling when we became teammates on the University of Minnesota baseball team. We have remained great friends for 50 years.
“Nitz was a great teammate, but more than that, he is a great person. Nitz and I still talk frequently, and our conversations always center around baseball. I cannot think of a more deserving person to be inducted into the [MBA Hall of Fame]. In my book, Jeff is already a Hall of Fame person.” – Tom Mee Jr., U of M, St. Louis Cardinals TV Director.
“Jeff’s years at the U of M are a rare part of his baseball story. There have been other local guys that have made it to that level, but not only did he make it, he was good! … The fact that his team was the last [U of M] team to play in Omaha at the College World Series, that is an achievement that stands alone.” Matt Bergstrom, DC and Maple Lake

“Coach Neutzling’s numbers speak for themselves, but you will never get him to talk about them. The closest I’ve seen him come to talking about his success as a ballplayer was one time, he pointed out the monument in Springers Park in Cold Spring, and the noticeable one-year gap in State Tourney appearances by the Springers.
“That year his hometown Avon knocked them off. He didn’t point it out because he wanted to brag, or had any ill will for the Springers. He pointed it out because he said making it to the tournament with his hometown team was the sweetest accomplishment in amateur baseball.” Nick Corbin, Cokato Kernels manager.
“While I could fill pages with tales of his prowess during his Avon Lakers years, there’s one that always stands out to me.
“It was 1975, the year Jeff helped lead Avon to its first State Tournament berth. We had to beat the Cold Spring Springers … Jeff was our catcher, and there was a play at the plate where he was bowled over, receiving a chipped tooth and a concussion. He still had the ball! We ended up beating the Springers, and had our first ever State Tournament berth.” – Dan Zimmerman, Avon Lakers.
“I will always remember the catcher that the Springers would draft from Avon and how everyone, fans and players alike, looked forward to having him on our team for the tournament.” - Dave Hinkemeyer, Cold Spring Springers.
“Jeff was always composed and sportsmanlike, and he led by his actions and ability. Jeff and I were both drafted by Cold Spring in 1973, and we won the state tournament. I was awarded the MVP trophy that year, but as far as I was concerned, Jeff would have been equally deserving of the trophy. We would not have won it without him. He batted .500 that tournament.” - Donald Nierengarten, St. Joseph

“It was a given that if the Lakers didn’t make the State Tournament, Jeff would be drafted by a team from those that did.” Jerry Borth, Maple Lake
“Jeff was humble, kind, competitive and gave his absolute best on and off the field.” Bill Porter, manager, Maple Lake

“Jeff was a superb receiver behind the plate, with all the tools who could ‘read’ hitters’ tendencies while they were in the box, and called for the right pitch and location. He was a tremendous asset to any pitcher, especially those that could spot their pitches. Offensively, he was feared and revered for his hitting. ‘Mr. Clutch’ would aptly describe him.” Joe Harmala, DC Saints Hall of Fame pitcher
“My first summer in the Dassel-Cokato community was 2000. It was inspiring to see my colleague, football coaching mentor, and friend Jeff, at 46 years old, batting cleanup in the Class B State Tourney. Facing Mankato’s ace pitcher, 25 years younger, he smashed two doubles off the wall that day in a great game. From that day on, MN amateur baseball had its hooks in me for life.” Mick Yanke, DC teacher and coach

“In his honor and by his request, we played a polka song at least one time each game as he was making his way to the first base coaching box. Number one on his Billboard charts was, ‘Who Stole the Kishka,’ but we would also mix in the ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ on occasion. About half of the time, a trained eye could catch him mix in a quick two-step dance on his way to first base, and a slight tip of his cap to the press box.
“There was also the classic defensive trick plays, ‘Ricky Over’ and ‘Charger D’. We got a lot of outs with those plays.” Andy Bohnsack, DC

“I guess if I had to pick one ball player that epitomizes the game of amateur baseball more than any other, I’d pick Jeff Neutzling.” Dan Zimmerman, Avon
“To me, Jeff Neutzling is known as ‘Mr. Baseball’ for central Minnesota.” Dale Carlson, DC.
“Anyone who has witnessed Jeff as a player or coach would say he deserves to be in the MBA Hall of Fame.” Mike Gagnon, manager, Howard Lake Orphans.

“You want credentials? Jeff played in an astounding 32 town ball state tournaments! He was one of the best catchers this state has ever seen. When his own team didn’t advance to the state tournament, he was drafted as a catcher 17 different times!” Joe Schleper, Delano
“Jeff was the best catcher both offensive and defensive in North Star League history. If Jeff did not go to the state tournament with his team, he was an automatic draft choice – he played 30 straight years in state tournaments.” Brian “Bookie” Larson, North Star League

“Jeff was a teacher of the game to thousands of young ballplayers that came through the Dassel-Cokato community.” Andy Gagnon, former Orphans and HLWW head coach.
“Jeff was my coaching mentor. I learned so much from watching and listening to his approach to the game. I admired Jeff’s approach, and how he truly cared for his players. His name is synonymous with baseball in Dassel-Cokato.” Cole Flick, former Saints player and DCHS head coach.
“As I got to know Jeff as a coach later in life, it was evident the patience he had as a hitter carried over to his coaching style. His quiet and calm style resonated with me. In spite of his success, he was always extremely modest.” Luke Gagnon, Annandale head coach.
“As a high school umpire, I was able to observe Jeff’s great coaching skills at DCHS. He demonstrated a positive attitude and always had a calm approach with all his student athletes and the game officials.” Pat Schneider, St. Joseph HOF 2015
“I dreamed big because of what Coach Neutzling accomplished in his career. I looked up to the man as if he was a legend, a town hero of sorts. I know for a fact if it wasn’t for coach Neutzling being who he was, I never would’ve tried to make it as far as I did. The man was a god in my mind, and still is. I’m not sure if I’ve ever told him any of that.” Justin McKinley, DCHS head coach.
“To me, even more important than his extensive list of playing accolades, is the impact that he has had on countless young ballplayers in DC. I was incredibly fortunate to have him as a coach in high school, and Legion. I can’t even begin to explain how positive an impact he had on me, not just in the baseball world, but life as a whole.” – Jordan Flick, DC Saints Manager

“I have known Jeff for many years as a neighbor, fellow teacher and coach. His dedication to the game of baseball has been amazing over the years. He continues to be influential to all ages.” Mick Hoien, former DC coach.
“I played with Jeff through 1993-2003. I watched Jeff and his HS teams for many years with my son Chris, who had cerebral palsy and was unable to participate for himself, but loved the game. Mr. Neutzling always went out of his way to say hi to Chris, and it always brought a smile to his face.
“One time the Saints were playing New Ulm, who happened to have Terry Steinbach on the team at the time. Nitz went out of his way to ask Mr. Steinbach to come over to our van, and during the game Terry made his way over to the van and took several pictures with Chris in his chair. Thank you Jeff for the thrill for my son.” Kevin Nelson, DC Saints teammate
“We drafted Jeff every time we went to the state tournament. But, the real [reason] he belongs in the Hall of Fame is the way he carried himself. After he went on to Maple Lake and DC, he continued to be a real ambassador of excellent baseball.” Bill Huls, Cold Spring Springers.
“Jeff cares about everyone. He is a friend and a loving dad and grandfather. He believes in hard work, faith, and family.“ Todd Smith, DCHS colleague
“When you use the words “family man”, the first person that pops into my mind is Jeff: a dedicated husband, fantastic father, and a very proud grandfather.” Jim Ponsford, DC colleague.
“Though I know he has felt losses keenly, he continues to live a great life. He continues to be a great dad to his daughters, and a great granddad. … In all the years I have known Jeff and had conversations with him, without exaggeration, I can say I have never heard him be critical of another person. He is above reproach.” Perry Thinesen, DC Saints teammate, DCHS Activities Director

“I have spoken to players who played on Jeff’s teams 30 years ago, and you can still hear the respect in their voices as they talk about the lessons Coach Neutzling taught them.” Daniel Sieling, former Gophers teammate.
“I have a hard time not understanding how a guy like Jeff Neutzling is not part of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame already. He is the person who would be the definition for ‘Hall of Fame’ if you could find that in the dictionary.” Tim Illies, Cold Spring.
“[Jeff] is what the Hall of Fame is clearly looking for in his dedicated, lifelong commitment to Minnesota Baseball. Jeff is a humble, gracious individual, who has left a solid impact on the players he’s coached and played with throughout the years.” Mark “Whitey” Forsman, DC Saints
“Your job as a committee is difficult each and every year; but the Hall of Fame needs quality people like Jeff Neutzling in it. To me, it’s a no-brainer.” John Riewer, former DC Saints pitcher

Other Contributors
Tink Larson, Waseca
Greg & Becky Howell, DC
Dick Glatzmaier, Avon
John & Karen Bergmann, DC
Jim Glatzmaier, Avon
Jerry Borth, Avon
Kurt Hemmesch, Cold Spring
Jerome Lindquist, DC Saints
Gary Porter, Maple Lake
Steven Neutzling
Mark Herman, DC
Scott Neutzling
David Smith, Avon
Josh Harmala, DC
Dan Robertson, DC
Joan Hemker
Gregg Trisko
Eric Hanson, DC Saints
Dave Bell, Cold Spring/umpire
Brad Force, DC
Ron Terrace
Jeanne Birr
Dean Carlson, DC
Andy Bohnsack, DC
Tim Morgan
Gary Sperl

Jeff Neutzling wanted to make sure the following individuals were mentioned as important presences in his life (with apologies for anyone missed)
John Nett, Albany
Paul Ebner, Albany
Pete Herges, Albany
Ron Juell, Albany
Mark (Whitey) Forsman, DC
Joe Harmala, DC
Gary Porter, Maple Lake
Pat Schneider, St. Joseph
Mark Herman, DC
Roger Jansen, DC
Chad Duwenhogger, DC
Mick Yanke, DC
Cole Flick, DC
Curt Sanborn, DC
Tim Illies, DC
Jim Ponsford, DC
Drew Carlson, DC
Perry Thinesen, DC
Nick Corbin, DC
Jordan Flick, DC
Ryan & Mandy Weinandt, DC
Teaching and Admin Team at DC:
Paula Trisko
Kari Dorsey
Beth Remme (Flick)
Amy Westrom
Bev Cowan
Rick Gross
Brad Force
Al Muller
Jeff Powers
Ed Otto
Dick (Chief) Siebert, U of M
George Thomas, U of M
The DC Saints, Maple Lake Lakers, Avon Lakers, and Cold Spring Springers Baseball Families
Rusch Family, Cokato Wine & Spirits (employer)
Albany Chief of Police Jim Steuve
Dale Wold
Dale Carlson
Roger and Jeannie Birr family
John Riewer, helped me through the best and worst of times, and remains the greatest ambassador of MN townball
Most importantly, the help of family through the tough times:
Katherine and Brice Berggren, and grandchildren: Caroline, Adeline, Ellen, Eric.
Margaret and Todd Goudy and grandchildren: Ty, Leah, Lane, and Tara.
Tom and Gail Berggren
Mick and Cheryl Goudy
Brother Scott and wife Lori and children: Steve, Kari.
Ellen and Joel Morton, and children Brooke and Page.

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