Summer baseball is just that, baseball in the summer. It’s a little more laid-back and the truncated schedule is far less taxing than the spring’s intense two-month varsity campaign.
Building a rich and consistent tradition at the American Legion level isn’t always easy. Understandably, many outgoing seniors from the high school team that won’t be playing baseball at the next level decide to hang up the spikes and take their last couple of months off before starting college.
This, combined with vacations, athletic camps, part-time jobs and other off-the-field obligations can make it extremely difficult to find enough dedicated players to field a deep enough team to make an exciting postseason run.
For Owatonna’s Post 77, though, this summer could be different.
The team will not only be stacked with a talented core of incoming seniors, but they will also be aided by recent OHS graduate Jon Klecker, who batted in the middle of the Huskies’ lineup this past spring and finished second on the team in batting average at .365.
Slipping in just before the age cutoff, 2018 Owatonna graduate — and former all-conference performer — Abe Havelka is also expected to join the team at some point after rehabbing from foot surgery he underwent in April.
“As if right now I am planning on it being a late-season push,” Havelka said via text message on Tuesday. “Middle of July or so. If the foot is good, I’ll be all good.”
Havelka, who was elected to have the recent surgery because he re-broke a bone in his foot, anchored Owatonna’s conference-championship lineup in 2018 and was one of the team’s top pitchers.
If Havelka and Klecker weren’t enough, one of Minnesota’s most dominant small-school pitchers — Willie VonRuden — will be joining the Owatonna summer program for the first time.
The Medford High School three-sport athlete has buzzed through the Gopher Conference since his freshman season, and this past spring was no different. In just 45 innings, he fanned 86 battered and finished with a 1.01 WHIP and 1.39 ERA.
VonRuden has already shown flashes of his high-end ability this summer, evidenced by his 14-strikeout performance against Mankato on June 8. If there was one thing that hindered the OHS baseball team this past spring, it was the lack of an unquestioned ace pitcher, and VonRuden will certainly be able to provide that during the summer.
Sam Henson threw the second-most innings for the Huskies this past spring (31) and finished with a 3.81 ERA in conference games and a rock-solid 2.41 ERA in 5 2/3 postseason innings.
Brayden Truelson emerged as the Huskies’ most consistent pitcher as a sophomore and threw a team-high 37 innings. As a pitch-to-contact right-hander, he finished with a 2.67 ERA to go with 14 strikeouts and 13 walks.
At the plate, Owatonna should be in great shape as 2019 all-conference performers Ethan Walter, Isaac Gefre and Zach Wiese (honorable mention) will provide the lineup with some serious juice.
Walter, a shortstop, reached base almost 50 percent of the time this past spring and ripped nine extra-basehits as the team’s lead-off batter.
Gefre started the season as a part-time player, but emerged as one of Owatonna’s most consistent offensive threats by the end of the season, finishing with a .362 batting average. He also slugged five doubles and drove in 13 runs. With Ben Zappa and Jake Miller not playing this summer, Gefre could shift from the one of the corner outfield spots to centerfield.
Wiese will play first base and designated hitter for Post 77. He drove in a team-high 16 runs in the spring and batted .349.
With a couple of outfield spots open, Matt Williams is expected to see more consistent playing time than he did in the spring when he played in 14 of the Huskies’ 23 games.
VonRuden — who finished with an .434 OBP to go with 12 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for the Tigers in 2019 — is an excellent defensive player and is capable of playing all three spots in the outfield.
Ethan Rohman will continue to log as many innings as possible behind the plate and develop his budding skills as a power-hitting catcher. Cummins, who will jump from the VFW to coach the Legion team for the first time this summer, trusts the incoming senior and allowed him to play through all of his defensive growing pains this past spring. Rohman is a great athlete for his size, a smart player and has the potential to lead the team in home runs this summer.
Carson DeKam logged 41 at bats for the varsity as a junior and batted .220 with three doubles and one home run. He will likely play third base and designated hitter.
Owatonna is 2-0 so far, beating Mankato and Albert Lea. Its game against the Rochester A’s was postponed on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Post 77 is scheduled to host Rochester Mayo at 7 p.m.