Archive for Brad Salmen

This summer has been a ball

I thought I was done coaching summer ball.

For the last six seasons, I’ve coached either my son Lars’, or my son Isaac’s, baseball teams.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed it. But it’s a commitment, to say the least. And there’s always that voice in the back of your head telling you you’re not good enough.

You’re an amateur. The parents are going to hate you. You’re going to embarrass yourself so much your son renounces baseball and decides to become a prank star on Tik Tok.

I’ve written before about being “voluntold” into a youth coach position.

Since I’ve had a long career playing and coaching baseball, and know a little bit about the game, the powers that be up in their ivory towers have always decided that it’s a given that I’ll accept a coaching position each season.

They’ve been right, of course, but only because my ego outweighs that voice in the back of my head. And also, in truth, because I have the time available, and so many other parents don’t.

Anyway, both Lars and Isaac entered the Junior Legion program this year, which was handled by pre-determined coaches named not-me.

At long last, my summer was free!

Until, that is, Torrey Keith from the DC Softball Association messaged me, asking if I would coach 14U girls softball.

Gulp, and double gulp.

I should mention at this point I have a daughter, Annika (13). Actually, I have three daughters, but two of them are older than the boys and have long since absconded or otherwise renounced official acknowledgment of the sportswriter formerly known as Dad.

Annika is our youngest. She’s a good kid, and a good softball player. Fast, with a lightning quick release.

I’ve watched plenty of her games over the past few years, and suffice to say, it is a different beast than youth baseball.

The biggest difference is not the game itself. You can adjust to any parameters in that regard.

No, the biggest difference is … it’s girls.

I’m not going to get into any sort of debate on culture vs. biology. Any parent who has raised both boys and girls will tell you, there’s a distinct difference.

One of Annika’s coaches over the seasons has been Luke Huggett. I highly respect Luke, and have been so very impressed by the way he coaches. Not only for his tactical prowess, but his ability to get the best out of every single one of the girls on his teams.

Youth softball, especially in the younger years, is filled with walks and errors.

Luke not only displayed incredible patience, but he was always – always! – so positive, and nurturing.

My reason for double gulping at the thought of coaching youth softball was, I didn’t know if I had that in me.

To be sure, I like to think I have been a positive influence on the boys I have coached. I like to think I’ve been encouraging, and generally evenhanded.

There have been times through the years, though, where I know my frustration has shown through. Like when you’ve worked on something umpteen times, but the kid still makes that same boneheaded mistake for the umpteenth + oneth time.

By and large, the boys have handled my expressions of frustration with aplomb. Sometimes too much aplomb, if I’m being honest.

Anyway, when Torrey asked me if I could coach youth softball, I told him: yes. But only as an assistant coach, if at all possible. I just didn’t think I was ready.

Fortunately, Kailee Kotila, a former DC grad, offered to be the head coach. Meaning I didn’t have to deal with all the admin stuff (which can be a nightmare), and could ease into it.

Y’know what? It went great.

The girls were awesome. It was a lot of fun coaching them. In a lot of respects, it was no different than coaching boys. Be supportive, be encouraging, teach them some skills. Cheer the highs, commiserate the lows.

One difference I did notice though, was confidence. Coaching boys, you could have a kid hitting .067 that has never hit the ball past the infield, yet he will tell you he should be batting third in the lineup and also maybe you should start him on the mound so the world can witness his 52-mph dirtball.

The girls were the opposite.

“I can’t hit,” said our #3 hitter, in the midst of an 8-for-11 streak. “I was so much better in 10U,” said our top strike thrower. “I suck”, said our catcher who was miles better than 95% of the girls in the league.

I tried to impart on them that confidence can be an important part of the game, but I’m not sure it landed.

But, bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the girls, just as I ended every other season having thoroughly enjoyed coaching the boys.

Big shout out to Mari Anderson for her help this season as well. I learned a lot from her both tactically, and in dealing psychologically with girls.

If the DC Softball Association wants to use me as a coach again next year, I’m game.

I’d still prefer to be an assistant, if someone more qualified comes along. Shouldn’t take much, really.

But after a season of learning, I think I have what it takes to lead a team of 14u girls into battle.

Maybe our dugout chant can be, “I was better in 10U, but I’m still better than you!”

Eh we’ll work on it.

 

***
Coaching Annika’s team took up three evenings of my week.

Following Lars and Isaac around the region generally filled up the other four.

At one point this summer, I was at a ballpark following or coaching my children for 43 out of 46 days.

It was pretty neat to see Lars and Isaac on the same team for the first time this summer, in Junior Legion. For a number of games, they were hitting back-to-back in the lineup.

Isaac, who is going into 10th grade this year, was also pulled up to play on the Legion team, along with underclassmen Jackson Yanke and Jaeden McKinley.

I was a bit worried about his reception. As a younger kid, would the older players be welcoming, or would they be resentful?

I needn’t have worried. The players, and their parents, were awesome. The older boys accepted Isaac and made him feel like a part of the team.

It’s a credit to coach Justin McKinley and the DC upperclassmen for the warm welcome. Thank you.

I hope when my boys are upperclassmen, they welcome the younger players with the same warmth.

 

***
The last thing I want to mention is the upcoming Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame induction of Jeff Neutzling.

Growing up, Nitz was one of my heroes.

I was one of the rugrats posting up on the right field scoreboard that was in play at Saints Field in the late 1980s.

We’d generally horse around, as young kids do, but I distinctly remember pausing to watch whenever Nitz came up to bat. His swing was captivating.

He was no less captivating as I went through my teens in the early 1990s. There was always the possibility of magic when he was at the dish.

Then, in 1995-1997, Nitz was my high school coach.

As my wife will tell you, I’m not a man that is blessed with a sharp memory, especially in regard to details from years gone past.

What I remember about Nitz from those days is not the wins and losses. We were pretty good as I remember, but lost in the section playoffs along the way. My senior year, especially, we were very solid, but lost in the first round unexpectedly.

I don’t remember the details from those losses.

What I do remember from those years, however, is Coach Neutzling.

He was, quite simply, a phenomenal coach. He worked tirelessly to help shape us into better ballplayers, and better young men.

He also had a presence that commanded instant respect, and drew you to him. It’s hard to explain, but when he was speaking to you, he captured your attention. He made you feel heard, and valuable.

Lastly, he was the most even keel coach I have ever encountered. He never – and I do mean never, at least as far I’ve ever seen or anyone has ever told me – lost the handle.

It’s pretty incredible in this day and age. Youtube is filled with coaches losing their marbles.

Nitz? Nah. The worst I remember was, I was in the dugout as a player, and an umpire made what was an absolutely atrocious call.

There was a brief flash of anger? Incredulity? in Jeff’s eyes, but it subsided quickly as he walked towards the umpire.

He said his piece briefly to the ump. He didn’t raise his voice, didn’t gesture. But I remember seeing the look on the umpire’s face: he knew he’d made the wrong call, and he was chagrined.

I got to play with Nitz for a few years with the Saints, before we moved away to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In the seven years I was gone before moving back, he’d lived a couple lifetimes worth of heartbreak and tragedy.

We didn’t have a lot of interaction after I returned, even after I started covering sports for the Enterprise Dispatch.

We were cordial and familiar, of course, as one always is with Nitz. (He refers to me as “Sid”, in reference to Sid Hartman, and he will never not castigate me for the sacrilegious act of wearing my baseball hat backwards. It makes taking photos easier, Nitz! I swear I wear it properly when I’m not working!)

After it was announced he’d be entering the Hall of Fame, however, I finally got a chance to really visit with, and learn about, Jeff Neutzling.

He and I talked for a number of hours over the course of several days, culminating in my two recent articles.

I had only heard bits and pieces of his story until that point. By the end of our conversations, we’d connected in a very raw and emotional way.

I was also very touched by the 70+ letters written by people connected to Jeff, describing his impact on their life. I read each and every one of them.

It was truly an honor to commemorate your induction into the Hall of Fame, Nitz.

There is nobody more deserving. We are all better for having known you.

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.

ALBANY HIGH SCHOOL
“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

UNIVERSITY OF
MINNESOTA
“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

AVON/COLD SPRING
“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

MAPLE LAKE LAKERS
“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

DC SAINTS
“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

FUN
“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

OVERALL
“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.

CREDENTIALS
“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

COACHING
“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

PERSONAL
“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

IN CONCLUSION
“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

NEUTZLING THANKS
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.

The Hall comes calling: Jeff Neutzling to be inducted into Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame

By Brad Salmen
Sports Reporter
This is not the first time that the term “Hall-of-Famer” is attached to Jeff Neutzling’s name.
Neutzling, or ‘Nitz’ as he’s known to dang near everyone in the Minnesota baseball community, is already a two-time HOFer. He was inducted into the Albany High School Hall of Fame in 1998, and the North Star League HOF in 2012.
This latest Hall of Fame designation, however, is the big one.
In September, Neutzling will be inducted with five other players and managers into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
There can be no doubt that from a stats perspective, Nitz is more than well-deserving.
One stat pops out the most: Neutzling played in 30 consecutive state tournaments, either as a member of his team, or by being drafted.
(For those keeping score: 13 state tourney appearances on his own team, 17 as a draftee).
Sadly, a decade of stats from his earlier years at Avon are lost, starting from 1971 when he was just a 16-year-old kid.
However, when his stats began being recorded in 1980 when Nitz was 25, to 2003 when he was 48, those numbers are eye-popping.
Translated into an MLB season of 600 at bats, Neutzling’s statline would look like this:
•    138 runs scored
•    221 hits
•    48 doubles
•    0.22 of a triple
•    28 home runs
•    162 RBI
•    And, a .369 batting average.
Not bad for a skinny kid from the fields of central Minnesota.
However, stats tell only part of the story.
In truth, in regard to what the MBA committee is looking for in their Hall-of-Fame nominees, stats are important, but even more important is what the nominee did outside the foul lines.
The committee looks for things like character, community involvement, and work towards boosting baseball in the state of Minnesota.
In that regard, the Hall of Fame nomination for Mr. Neutzling is, in the words of DC Saints and town ball legend John Riewer, an “absolute no-brainer.”
Beyond what he did on the field at Albany, Avon, the University of Minnesota, Cold Spring, Maple Lake, and finally Dassel-Cokato: Nitz’s character is impeccable, and his dedication to baseball unparalleled.
When news of his potential nomination broke, letters poured in to the MBA committee from folks  throughout the region. From former players and teammates, to opponents, co-workers, friends, and fans, over 70 people had a story to tell about Nitz.
Some described his sweet, sweet swing, or his defensive prowess behind the plate. There were plenty of laments from former opponents on how they simply could not get Nitz out.
Beyond that though, all of them – every single one – described some way in which Jeff Neutzling made a difference in their life off the field; as a coach, teammate, teacher, or friend.
Cokato Kernels manager Nick Corbin, a former, player, teammate, and opponent of Nitz, put it this way:
“If you are at a baseball field and tell someone you are from Dassel or Cokato, they will likely ask you if you know Jeff Neutzling. He has given a lot to the game of baseball and given a lot to our local baseball community,” he said. “Coach Neutzling is an elite baseball guy, and should be in every Hall of Fame.”

From humble beginnings in
Albany and Avon
Neutzling was a scrawny, if gifted, ninth grader when he first cracked the Albany varsity lineup in 1970 at 15 years old.
As luck would have it, the 1970 Albany baseball team had what is arguably their most talented class under head coach John Nett (who passed away just a month ago).
For those who watched Nitz behind the dish for so many years, it might come as a surprise that he started his career as a left fielder.
“We had Loren Schiffler in center, and Jimmy Glatzmaier played short. All I had to do was cover a small corner of the field,” Neutzling said.
After the high school season, Albany starting catcher Jack Hasbrouck signed with the Minnesota Twins, and left the team.
Neutzling recalls coach Nett walking up and down the Legion dugout with “the box”, an old cowpie catchers glove with no hinge, and tossing it to a young Nitz and telling him, “you’re the catcher.”
“Oh boy, that was a learning experience,” Neutzling said, noting that the team’s ace was Dick Glatzmaier, a ‘typical lefthander who couldn’t throw the ball straight if his life depended on it, as it dove all over.’
“I wasn’t given a choice. I was indoctrinated into catching,” he said.
Neutzling continued catching for the next three seasons with Albany. Though they had success, they never matched the 1970 championship season.
During that same time, Nitz began playing for Avon’s town ball team. (Albany’s town ball team, the Skeeters, had previously folded).
“Between Legion and Avon, we had a game or practice six days a week,” he said.
Nitz was a good enough catcher that even after Avon didn’t make the playoffs, the Cold Spring Springers (the New York Yankees of the area at the time) drafted him every season they could after making the state tourney, a trend that continued for a decade.
[In those days, teams could draft both pitchers and catchers. Nowadays, only pitchers are allowed to be drafted].

Dick Siebert and the
U of M beckons
Following the 1973 high school season, Neutzling’s last at Albany, his coach John Nett called up Dick Seibert, the longtime coach of the University of Minnesota baseball team.
I’ve got a kid out here who could maybe play for your team, Nett told Siebert.
Siebert said, I’m coming out to Melrose to do a baseball clinic for the young kids, why don’t you have Jeff come over?
Neutzling went through the clinic, throwing down, running, hitting, etc.
At the end, Siebert sat young Neutzling down and told him: Jeff, I can teach you the game of baseball, but you can do something that I can’t teach … just by watching you swing, you should be able to hit, and I think you can play at our level.
Siebert then gave Neutzling a few days to make a decision.
“I told mom and dad, and they said, well ok you’re not 12 years old anymore, you need to start making your own decisions,” he said. “So I told Siebert, ‘yeah that sounds good to me.’”
Siebert, an old school coach not one to mince words, told Neutzling early on, “you won’t throw anyone out [at catcher]. But, we want your bat somewhere.”
“I was like, ok, if I can crack the starting lineup I’ll carry Paul Molitor’s duffle bag,” Neutzling said.
The following four seasons – in which Neutzling’s bat kept him in the lineup as a starter for three of the four years (1975 was a tough one) – were among his fondest baseball memories.
“We won together, we lost together, we were a really close-knit team. You had guys from all over, but they were all good guys,” Neutzling said.
In 1977, Nitz’s senior season, the Gophers made a huge run through the playoffs, making the College World Series in Omaha (they remain the last Gophers team to do so).
Much like his freshman year at Albany, Nitz was stuck in left field as a Gopher, with Tommy Mee Jr. covering his left from center field, and shortstop Paul Molitor covering anything in front of him.
Mee went on to a long broadcast career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Molitor, well, he ended up in the MLB Hall of Fame.
That 1977 team had numerous players end up in professional ball, either in the minors or majors. Tom Jagiela was drafted by the Twins, as was LHP Perry Bauer. Danny Morgan (Montreal), Steve Comer (Texas) and Jerry Ujdur (Detroit) also were drafted and signed.
Neutzling said the closest he got to professional ball was after a scouting tryout, where a Cincinnati scout sat and talked to him, telling Nitz there may be an opening for him.
“Like a dummy, I didn’t wander too far away from the phone thinking there’d be a call,” Neutzling said. “There was no call.”

Real Life Sets In
The one thing Nitz didn’t have after four years of playing baseball at the University of Minnesota was, a degree.
“I had a great experience at the U. But all of a sudden, my four years were up,” he said.
Neutzling moved back home, and worked at Kraft Foods in Albany, while finishing up his degree at St. Cloud State.
He continued to play baseball, of course, with the Avon team, and continued getting drafted by the Cold Spring Springers if Avon did not make the tournament. He would play with Avon through the 1984 season.
The best thing about his time at the U, however, had nothing to do with baseball.
In Neutzling’s junior year (1976) he met Carol Chamberlain, an Augsburg student, at a baseball gathering at the U of M campus.
“I should have proposed to her on the spot,” Neutzling recounted.
Instead, he courted her for six years, and the two were united in matrimony in 1982.
Jeff said Carol was a “city girl,” and didn’t really understand the town ball atmosphere when they first were dating.
“We were going to a game in Cold Spring, and I had to forewarn her. She had been watching me play with Paul Molitor, Brian Denman, Tommy Mee … I told her, town ball is not the same caliber as these D1 kids running around,” Neutzling said.
It didn’t take long for Carol to come around and see things from Jeff’s point of view: there’s no better place to raise a family than at a town ball field, with a town ball baseball team.
Jeff and Carol had three daughters: Emily (born 1983), Katherine (1986) and Margaret (1989).
“The folks in Avon welcomed everyone with open arms. Maple Lake, DC, it was the same,” said Neutzling. “When you have kids it almost becomes a social gathering, their friends are there and they’re running around having fun. I’d ask Emily what the score of our game was, and she’d say, ‘I dunno.’ She was too busy having fun.”
Jeff played for Avon through 1984, and after securing a job as a teacher at Dassel-Cokato in 1982, joined the Maple Lake team for five seasons, as DC did not have a team at that time.
Neutzling said he tagged along with DC legend Joe Harmala to play for Maple Lake, and head coach Gary Porter. He played for Maple Lake for five seasons, from 1985-1989.
Just as in years past, if the Lakers did not make the state tournament, Nitz would be drafted by a Region team that did.

Neutzling the Coach
and Educator
So many people who wrote in to the MBA Hall of Fame committee preferred to talk not about Jeff Neutzling the sweet-swinging baseball player.
Instead, they preferred to talk about the impact Jeff Neutzling, teacher and coach, had on their lives.
Neutzling taught in the DC school district for 28 years.
As a teacher, it is not hyperbole to state that his door was always open, and that he was always listening to his students.
Neutzling also coached many different levels of basketball, football, and, of course, baseball.
He worked with kids across all skill levels, from pre-K, to elementary, to junior high, to varsity.
“Jeff built a successful program because he took the time to work with and organize all levels of the program,” said Roger Jansen, a fellow coach and teacher with Neutzling in the 1990s and 2000s. “I believe a word to describe Jeff’s coaching is ‘respect’. He always demonstrated respect for his players regardless of skill level, along with respect for opponents, opposing coaches, and officials. Jeff is responsible for many young players developing a love for baseball.”

The Saints come marching in
When the Saints started up again in 1990 under the guidance of Mark (“Whitey”) Forsman, Neutzling moved over to Saints Field.
Neutzling recalls meeting with Mark Forsman soon after he accepted his teaching job, and gazing out at Saints Field, which at the time had snow fencing, a rickety stands and scoreboard, and an outfield that could charitably described as “wavy”.
“Whitey was standing there and he says, ‘yep, some day we’ll be hosting the state tournament,” Neutzling said. “I thought, man I gotta buy some of that snus you’re chewing, because you must be on something.”
Of course, the rest is history. Whitey did, in fact, restart the DC Saints team in 1990, with Neutzling and a Cokato Elementary teacher by the name of John Riewer joining the first season of Saints reincarnation.
“It was a nice 1-2 punch; Riewer could either beat you on the mound, or he’d beat you at the plate,” said Neutzling.
Just four seasons after their reincarnation, the Saints advanced as far as the Class C State Title game in 1993.
Forsman was also true to his word. Phase by phase, he turned Saints Field into what it is today, one of the best town ball ballparks in the state.
Watching and helping Forsman turn Saints Field into the gem it is today, piece by piece, is one thing Neutzling will always remember from his time with the Saints.
“It’s been quite a project. I’ll always remember jackhammering the old dugouts out through a foot of cement,” he said. “Looking back, being a part of the Saints Field revival is something I’ll always be proud to be a part of.”

Moving on From Unspeakable Tragedy, x2
There’s a saying: no parent should have to bury their child.
Unfortunately, Jeff and Carol had to do just that with their oldest daughter Emily.
Emily was killed in a car accident November 5, 2003.
Less than three years later, Carol Neutzling passed away due to cancer Jan. 7, 2006.
With the loss of his daughter, and then shortly thereafter his wife due to a battle with cancer, Neutzling said he has relied on a maxim instilled through his Catholic belief:
Faith, Family, Friends.
“With grief, I often thought if I could fast forward the tape of time just five years ahead, everything would be a little bit easier, a little bit better,” he said. “But that’s not how it works. That grief, you have to embrace that every single day, you get up in the morning, that doesn’t disappear.”
Neutzling recalls an elderly gentleman coming through the line for Emily’s reviewal. Jeff said he had never met him before.
“Jeff, I bet a lot of people have come through the line and told you, ‘time will heal everything,’” the elderly man said.
“Yes sir, they have,” Neutzling said.
“Well that ain’t true. I lost a child 42 years ago. All that time does is help you cope with things better. That part of your heart that’s missing with the one you lost, that doesn’t grow back. That stays there,” said the old man.
His words remain true, said Jeff.
“You gotta get up, gotta face the day, remember the great memories you had together. Faith tells you that some day we’re going to be reunited again, and that keeps the head above water,” Neutzling said.
And baseball, as part of family and friends in a small town, has played a big part in keeping him afloat.
“The support I’ve had, not just from the DC community, but Maple Lake, Albany, Avon, Cold Spring, the U of M … It gives you hope. It keeps you going.”

Neutzling is the third player/coach, and fourth person associated with the DC Saints, to join the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame. He joins Joe Harmala (inducted 2002) and Mark “Whitey” Forsman (2014), along with Brian “Bookie” Larson (2005).
The induction banquet will take place Saturday, Sept. 16 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud, home of the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
Tickets to the banquet can be ordered by downloading a form on the Hall of Fame website, www.mnbaseballhof.com.
Tickets can also be ordered from Hall of Fame secretary John George by sending an email to mnbaseballhof@gmail.com.
Tickets must be ordered by Sept. 1. No tickets will be sold on the day of the banquet.
For more information, please cotact John George at 218-298-0434, or visit the website www.mnbaseballhof.com.

Tate Link to participate in All-Star Game

By Brad salmen
Sports Editor
Tate Link was rewarded for a phenomenal 2022 season by being named to the Minnesota High School Football All-Star Game.
The 50th annual All-Star game will be held Saturday, Dec. 10, with the kickoff at 6 p.m at US Bank Stadium.
Players and coaches representing 85 schools and 37 sub-districts will participate in this year’s game. They were selected by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA).
It will be the second straight season that Dassel-Cokato will have a running back featured in the game, after Eli Gillman’s appearance in last year’s game.
After Gillman’s eye-popping season last year, Link followed up with one of his own.
His statline: 300 carries for 2,190 yards and 32 touchdowns in 10 games, with a 7.3  yards per carry. Link helped propel the Chargers to an 8-2 season record.
(Average: 30 carries, 219 yards, and 3.2 touchdowns per game).
“Tate had an outstanding year and career for us. He is well deserving of being selected,” said DC head coach Ryan Weinandt. “It will be exciting to see him put on the pads one more time and play with the best seniors in the state.”
Link will be the fourth player, and fifth DC Charger, to participate in the All-Star game.
Tyler Irvin played in the 2011 summer game, and offensive lineman Keaton Lasanen and coach Weinandt both participated in 2017, before Gillman’s appearance last season.
It will be the sixth time the game has been played at US Bank Stadium, and will also be the 60th overall All-Star Game in Minnesota football history, dating back to 1945.
It will be the 12th consectuve time the game will feature the North All-Stars vs. the South All-Stars. The South AS lead the North 9-2 in the current iteration (Link will suit up for the North All-Stars).
Last season, the South beat the North 12-7.
Tickets can be purchased at am.ticketmaster.com/vikings/HSFootballAllStarGame.

Too many mistakes dooms DC in 47-36 section final loss to Watertown-Mayer

BUFFALO — Mistakes finally overtook the DC Chargers football team.

DC had four turnovers, and seven penalties, in a 47-36 loss to Watertown-Mayer in the Section 2AAA championship game.

Both teams battled back-and-forth throughout the first half, with the Royals hitting a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to take a 23-22 lead.

The Chargers scored on their opening possession of the second half to take a 28-23 lead, but the Royals took advantage of three DC turnovers in the second half to take the victory.

Tate Link finished with 31 carries for 223 yards, and three touchdowns. Tyree Thielen had 14 carries for 95 yards.

Wyatt McCabe had 28 carries for 204 yards and two touchdowns for W-M. Albert Rundell went 9-15 for 122 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and added 12 carries for 88 yards and a score.

Check out Friday’s Enterprise Dispatch for a full recap.

 

Chargers survive Dragons in section semis

COKATO — The DC Chargers football team overcame numerous miscues to score a game-winning, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and take a 14-7 victory over Litchfield in their section semifinal game Saturday afternoon.

The Dragons took a 7-6 halftime lead, and held that one-point advantage into the fourth quarter. But the Chargers scored a go-ahead touchdown with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter, and got back-to-back sacks by Logan Christopherson and Hunter Grindeland to turn Litchfield over on downs.

Tate Link had 48 carries for 277 yards, and both touchdowns for DC. The Chargers were hurt by six penalties, and two turnovers, but held Litchfield to just 141 yards of total offense.

DC will now face Watertown-Mayer in the section championship Friday at Buffalo.

Check out next week’s Enterprise Dispatch for a full recap.