Jeff Sprinkel rolled into Veterans Field in St. Peter in a sharp 2008 Mazda Miatti convertible.
“I still love playing the game,” said Sprinkel, who lives in south Minneapolis and plays for the TC Bats of the Minnesota 50+ Baseball League. “And at my age, there are some benefits to growing old. That’s the difference. We can afford a car like that.”
Sprinkel said he’d been looking for some time for a Miati, and this one only had 55,000 miles on it. New, a Mazda Miati might cost over $35,000. A look at some other 2008 Miatis put the used price tags at $10-11,000.
The 58-year-old center fielder for the Bats didn’t look too bad on the field either, stealing some bases and scoring a few times in his team’s 7-3 victory over the St. Peter Bullheads.
The local over-50 team doesn’t carry the traditional Saints nickname. That’s because many of the players originated with the old Hanska Bullheads, led by Tom Steinbach of New Ulm baseball fame. Tom’s more famous brother, Terry, the former Minnesota Twins catcher, played some with the Bullheads. Knutson also manages the St. Peter Saints Over-35 baseball team.
Now hosted out of St. Peter, the new Bullheads team is managed by David Haugh of St. Peter, along with coaches Jeff Knutson of St. Peter and Brian Sieve of New Ulm but formerly from Sleepy Eye, a 1981 graduate.
Still, the most common face in the St. Peter dugout remains veteran pitcher Tom “Bully” Lacina.
“I’ve probably pitched 90 percent of the innings for them over the last six, seven years,” said Lacina, whose storytelling through the years has often been not suitable for work.
Lacina has managed the St. Peter amateur town ball team for decades and has himself been drafted, pitched or participated in numerous Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association state tournaments over the years. This year’s MBA town ball tourney begins later this month and runs through Labor Day at Delano, Maple Lake and Dassel-Cokato.
But Lacina’s near-legendary baseball status also includes annual Florida trips for the Roy Hobbs baseball tournaments. The growing popularity of the game for veterans includes divisions for 35+ all the way to 75+.
While the St. Peter Bullheads (2-1) dropped their first game of the season, it’s the comradery in the dugout and love for the game which brings a lot of these guys together. The elder statesman for the Bullheads at 65, Tom Bruess of rural Montgomery, joined the team after being disappointed that the Union Hill Over-35 team folded. Living halfway between Montgomery and New Prague, he still coaches youth baseball at Union Hill.
Midway through Thursday night’s game, Bruess trotted out to first base and played errorless defense in the field and added a single at the plate. It was starting first baseman Scott Surprenaut who looked really sharp with his left-handed work there and a perfect 3-for-3 day at the plate.
“Where else can you be a 58-year-old rookie?” said Surprenaut of Sleep Eye.
The former Indians contribute well to the Bullheads, with shortstop Dean Brinkman and third baseman Randy Armbruster, now 63. Brinkman recalls after the 2003 season when the New Ulm Brewers topped the Sleepy Eye town ball team and players from both sides decided to look at the over-35 leagues.
“It’s a fun bunch,” said Al Felber of New Ulm. Thirty years in that German town haven’t put an end to his Oklahoma accent. “We’re playing for the right reasons. Just go out and have fun.”
Lacina, 61, rarely shuts up in the dugout. He tossed six of the seven innings. He called Felber “Texas,” hoping to get a rise. Earlier, he joked when asked if there was a special slide rule after Haugh got caught in a rundown between second and third and knocked over the Bats’ third baseman.
“If you gotta slide, you shouldn’t be going,” Lacina cracked.
Most of the Over-50 teams are metro-based, but there’s the Montgomery Coyotes and the St. Patrick Emeralds, Union Hill Greyhounds and New Prague Posse.
The TC Bats put together a four-run sixth inning en route to the 7-3 victory over St. Peter.
The season continues into early September.