Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's Just a Game

Hello, friends. After a bit of a hiatus during the school year, work on the book is back underway. As a teacher it was hard to write during the school year with planning and homework besides being a husband and having a life.

No worries. Now that it's summer, work is back underway, and the book is nearing completion.

The book is tentatively titled It's Just a Game.

Since my summer started, I've been banging away at the keyboard. I just counted and I have over 40,000 words written and I'm a little over halfway done.

Right now the plan is to have 18 chapters, and the book should be complete by the time September rolls around.

Writing the book is easy compared to finding a publisher. If anyone out there has any contacts in the publishing industry, shoot me an e-mail and let me know.

Thanks for following along over the past year or so. Over the course of the next couple months hopefully I can post some excerpts from the book, and maybe do a little more writing about the league here on the blog.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Support the Dug-Out Club

The Dug-Out Club was organized in 1970 to promote and support the sport of baseball in the greater Madison area. The primary focus originally was that of a "booster club" for the University of Wisconsin baseball program until their demise.

Since that fateful day in 1991, emphasis has been placed on area youth and amateur programs. The Club has directed their time, efforts and resources in the past several years in response to numerous requests for assistance at the Little League, youth, high school, American Legion, Babe Ruth and adult amateur baseball levels. In year 2008 for example, the Dug-Out Club has provided financial assistance totaling in excess of $19,000 to 21 organizations. Since 1992, the Dug-Out Club has contributed $220,000 to baseball programs in the greater Madison area.

Each year for the past 27 years, the Dug-Out Club has sponsored the Greater Madison/Brewer Baseball Banquet (including Raffle and "Silent Auction") to help these programs. The 28th Annual Banquet is set for sometime in January 2009, again at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison. The Milwaukee Brewers organization will participate again this year. We are also in the process of lining up some special guests (the actual date is not currently set as the availability of the Milwaukee Brewers staff and Concourse Hotel is not yet known. Actual date should be finalized in the next few months).

We invite you to participate in and support this year’s banquet by purchasing a table. Cost for a table of 10 is $450 and the event includes a steak dinner and free beer and soda. Individual seats are also available at a cost of $50 each.

If you purchased a table in the past, we thank you and ask for your continued support. If you have not bought a table in the past, now is a great opportunity to begin and join in the fun, food, beverages and camaraderie by "talking baseball" with other baseball enthusiasts.

Please view our website at for more information about the banquet as it becomes available and feel free to contact any of the members with any questions you may have regarding the banquet or the Dug-Out Club.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Verona wins Home Talent League title

VERONA – There’s the curse of the Bambino.

The curse of the Billy Goat.

And the curse of the Cavalier?

“I don’t call it a curse,” said Verona manager Dale Burgenske. “It’s just that we got beat by better teams all those other years. The team that gets the best pitching and the best hitting and the best defense, and has that little Irish luck in there, that’s the difference in winning the pennant and maybe losing one or two games.”

Whether it’s a curse or not, one thing is for sure, the streak is over. Verona won their first ever Home Talent League championship on Sunday.

Since Burgenske has taken over management of the team, the Cavaliers have been to the league’s “Final Four” in six out of the past eight years and haven’t been able to cash in until this year.

Verona got by the Utica Association by a score of 6-1 in a championship series that was extended to an extra game due to both teams having identical 2-1 records at the end of round robin play.
Superior play in all phases of the game led to the victory.

The hard hitting Cavaliers pounded out 13 hits, while starting pitcher Matt Niffenegger scattered seven hits over nine innings.

Stolen bases led to runners in scoring position, and even right fielder Zach Spencer’s diving catch to record the last out of the game highlighted the team’s defensive prowess.

As has been the case throughout the championship series, the bottom of Verona’s order came up big once again in the final and deciding game.

“(Nick) Krohn, (Bill) Engelhart and (Dan) Koss were really super in the last two or three games,” said Burgenske. “That’s why you win is when you can execute like that. That’s the name of the game.”

It certainly was a team effort, though.

“We’ve had pretty much this core group of guys for awhile now,” said Krohn. “We didn’t have too much turnover over the past couple years, but it feels so good to do it with these guys.”

Utica had two chances to end the series but just couldn’t get it done. After having lost to Verona at home the week prior, the Association’s job got much harder when they had to travel to Utica on Sunday.

“You can’t beat these guys with one run,” said Utica manager Dale Vike. “They hit the ball. We knew it going in.”

Verona ended their streak of years without a championship in 2008. The Red Sox ended theirs in 2004. Could the Cubs be next?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Verona wins HTL title!

Congratulations to Verona, 2008 Home Talent League champions!

Monday, September 8, 2008

If this sounds familiar, it should

UTICA – New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The saying holds true in amateur baseball circles here in Wisconsin. One year ago, Monona had a chance to clinch the Home Talent League championship when they hosted Sauk Prairie in the third game of the league’s round robin format.

Monona lost, and they were forced to go on the road to win the championship the following weekend. It all sounds very similar to what’s happen this year in the HTL.

On Sunday the Utica Association had a chance to clinch the title, but lost to the Verona Cavaliers pushing the final and deciding game back a week.

With both Utica and Verona tied at 2-1 after three rounds of round robin play, the deciding game is to be played at the site opposite of which the teams first played. Thus, next week’s game will be played on Sunday September 14 at 1:00 p.m. in Verona.

What remains to be seen is if Utica can rebound and win the league pennant on enemy territory.

Utica failed to take advantage of the opportunity to prevent the series from extending an extra week by giving up a barrage of runs to a solid hitting Verona club.

The Association took 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning behind the strength of RBI singles by both Matt Ellingson and Micky Ramsden, but that was as good as it got for Utica.

Verona tied the score at 2-2 in the very next frame with a pair of run scoring singles by Zach Spencer and Justin Scanlon and never looked back.

“They hit the ball,” said Utica manager Dale Vike. “We had a couple mistakes that cost us some runs. That didn't beat us. They beat us.”

Verona kept on scoring to the tune of an 11-5 victory. The usually potent Cavalier lineup added some extra bang when the bottom of the batting order came up big in the victory.

The seven through nine hitters in the Verona lineup all had RBIs. Designated hitter Bill Englehart had two.

“It's a coach's dream when everybody down the lineup is making solid contact with the ball,” said Verona manager Dale Burgenske. “When our team plays that way, we score a lot of runs, period.”

Utica has their work cut out for them next week. Not only do they have to figure out a way to slow down the Verona slugging powerhouse, but they have to do so with an ailing pitching staff.

Ellingson, who started the first game of the Final Four for Utica, hasn’t pitched since due to soreness in his shoulder.

“They beat us today,” said Vike, “but that don't mean they're going to beat us next week.”

It’s kind of like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Utica at Verona on Sunday September 14 at 1:00 for the 53rd and final game on the road trip.

Tailgating at Utica

It was nice to see some good old fashioned tailgating before the Home Talent League championship round robin at Utica.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Utica has leg up on competition for Home Talent title

UTICA – Dinner hasn’t been served, but the Utica Association has reserved its seat at the head of the table. Going into the final weekend of round robin play, Utica is one win away from the Home Talent League championship.

The Association secured its spot as the only undefeated team left in round robin play on the strength of a 7-6 victory over Sun Prairie on Sunday in Utica.

Right fielder Micky Ramsden drove in the winning run with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to put Utica over the edge.

“Early in the count I was just trying to hit it hard and drive it,” said Ramsden, “get it out of the infield and maybe get a chance for a sac fly. But then once I got behind, I was just trying to hit it hard and hopefully it finds a hole, and it did.”

The winning run was just the tip of the iceberg for Utica, though, as they rallied from a 5-1 deficit to leg out the victory.

Down by four runs in the eighth inning, Matt Ellingson started the comeback with a sacrifice fly to score Matt Dwyer to make the score 5-2. Christian Stokstad followed with two RBI single scoring Brad Knickmeier and Doug Vike to get within two runs at 6-4.

In the ninth inning second baseman Doug Vike, son of Utica manager Dale Vike, drove in the tying run with a two RBI double to knot the score at 6-6. Vike subsequently scored the winning run on Ramsden’s single.

“I wasn't seeing the ball very well today at all, but I finally got lucky sooner or later,” said Doug Vike.

Veteran pitcher Scott “Scoobie” Hestnes got the victory for the Association after two innings in relief of Dwyer. Hestnes along with Dale Vike are the only two players left from Utica’s only other Home Talent League championship way back in 1991.

“I’ve been in situations like this before,” said Hestnes. “I’ve been in a lot of Final Fours. This is what I’ve been playing for right here. It’s awesome. Just awesome”

Only a victory next weekend over Verona will wrap up Utica’s first HTL title in 17 years. Several scenarios are still possible in which both Sun Prairie and Verona are still alive.

A Verona victory combined with a Sun Prairie loss on Sunday will force a one game playoff the following week where Utica would, in turn, have to play at Verona.

Another scenario where both Verona and Sun Prairie win next week would force a three way tie and extend the season two more weeks. A coin toss would determine who plays in the preliminary game.

Utica can put to rest any such eventualities with a win at the end of round robin play. And according to Dale Vike, the team is ready for the challenge.

“A lot of these guys haven't won a championship, and they want it bad,” said Vike. “I just hope they can win it just for them. I know what it feels like. I want them to feel it. It's the greatest feeling other than your kids being born.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Verona at Utica in the third round of the championship series round robin on Sunday September 7 at 1:00.

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 25, 2008

Verona Home Talent is a family affair

MARSHALL – The Verona Cavaliers lost the opening game of the Home Talent League championship series round robin due to a Sun Prairie walk-off homerun, but all is not lost. If they keep focused on what got them to the “Final Four,” there’s still hope.

What got them as far as they did was some family-oriented baseball.

Manager Dale Burgenske has two offspring that are starters on the Verona nine. Son Derek was the team’s starting centerfielder on Sunday while his brother David was right by his side over in leftfield.

But that’s not all. First base coach Dan Prochaska’s son Derek was behind the plate catching for the Cavaliers.

“It's not just me being his son,” said Derek. “He looks after everybody else on the team. He and Dale are dads for everybody. It's just nice having that family aspect of it.”

Even if none of the other players have brothers on the team, they can at least feel like they do. That’s been one of the key ingredients in Verona’s recipe for success.

“I think it relaxes the kids a little bit knowing that they're not just being watched by strangers,” said Dan Prochaska. “They can relax a little and feel comfortable out there knowing that they have support behind them, not just the players, but family support.”

The family aspect has gotten Verona a long way. They rode into the game against Sun Prairie on a seven game winning streak, they had the best record in the Western section during the regular season, and they’ve made the championship series in six out of the past eight years.

In fact, Dale Burgenske has a 94-17 record in the regular season since 2002. It’s fair to say that Verona has been one of the league’s most dominant teams during his tenure. And according to Burgenske, the family-like bond is part of the reason they’ve seen so much success.

“You've got to get that camaraderie,” said Dale Burgenske. “You play on Thursdays, you play on Sundays, and sometimes it's the camaraderie that gets you the five or six extra wins, or it gets you into the ‘Final Four.’ So we have a great time. It is kind of a family thing here, and we enjoy that part of it too.”

In the storied eighty year history of the Home Talent League, Verona has never been able to win it all. They just haven’t been able to get over the hump, but this could be the year that changes that trend.

Thanks to the league’s unique round robin format, no team is eliminated from contention after the first round of play. And no team has the championship wrapped up for that matter either.

“No one's ever out of it,” said Dale Burgenske. “Everybody always wants to win that first game, because all then all they got to do hopefully is split the rest of the way out, and they still got a chance to be in the sudden death playoff. But yeah, our backs are against the wall now.”

Their backs may be against the wall, but with the family-like feel the Verona team has, at least the players know that somebody’s got their back.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie at Utica in the second round of the championship series round robin on Sunday August 31 at 1:00.

Photo caption: Verona's Derek Prochaska waits to receive a warm up pitch in the opening game of the "Final Four."
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Gross wins the game

Sun Prairie's Aaron Gross is moments away from crossing home plate after his towering walk-off home run in their opening round victory over Verona in the Home Talent League championship round robin.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Feiner leads Sun Prairie in more ways than one

DE FOREST – Sun Prairie was the lowest remaining seed in the entire 42 team Home Talent League. They beat all odds and the DeForest Deacons on Sunday to earn their way into the league’s championship series thanks in large part to catcher Kasey Feiner.

To say that he’s experienced doesn’t begin to describe this year’s starting catcher on the HTL All-Star team. He’s a veteran influence and a leader both on his team and even within his own family.

While Feiner is paving the way for Sun Prairie to go to the Final Four, he has two brothers that are playing professional baseball whom he played mentor to as they grew up.

“Kasey was a great teacher along the way the way for his younger brothers,” said his father Scott. “No doubt about it.”

Kasey’s brother Korey is a catcher in the Seattle Mariners minor league organization while Kevyn is a middle infielder in the Cincinnati Reds farm system.

So while his siblings are getting paid to play, Kasey is enjoying the spoils of a successful season back home.

One of the reasons Sun Prairie finds themselves as the Eastern section playoff champions is that Feiner and several his teammates have been there and done that before. As HTL champions in 2005, Feiner knows better than to let the pressure of a big game dictate how the team plays. “

The special one about this is you get to appreciate it because you've already been there and won one,” said Feiner. “You really get to relax and appreciate it.”

A lot was at stake on Sunday. The loser was sent home packing, but the winner gets to play an addition three and maybe even four weeks in the league’s round robin championship format.
“We've got a little more playoff experience than they do,” said Sun Prairie manager Scott Knorr about one of the reasons they were able to beat DeForest and move on in the playoffs.

Sun Prairie was the lowest remaining seed coming into Eastern section playoffs and, of course, they will continue to be as they begin the first round of the championship series next week when they take on Verona in Marshall on Sunday. Feiner thinks it’s an advantage not to be the favorite.

“Even though we were the fourth seed, I was feeling confident about that Monona game,” said Feiner about their opening round victory in the Eastern section a week prior. “And it's kind of nice because you win that one and you get some momentum going, and you're still the underdog. They're still expected to beat you.”

No one would have blamed Feiner had he packed it in after Sun Prairie won the league title back in 2005. After all, here he is toiling in amateur baseball when two of his brothers are playing professionally.

But he doesn’t feel like the low man on the totem pole. Instead he’s achieving at highest level he knows.

“You play to have fun and to compete against other people,” said Feiner. “I get to have my parents and a whole bunch of people come watch me. So those guys [his brothers] are kind of slaving away. I don't know who has it better.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie plays Verona in the first round of the championship series round robin at Marshall on Sunday August 24 at 1:00.

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 11, 2008

Celebrated season comes to an end in Evansville

“The slipper almost fit, huh?” said Evansville Home Talent centerfielder/general manager Jon Frey after his team’s first ever playoff appearance on Sunday.

Evansville may have had a storybook season, but it just didn’t have a storybook ending. Their reign as Cinderella ended with their loss to the Fort Atkinson Generals in the first round of the Southeastern section playoffs.

In only their fourth year in Home Talent, the Evansville Jays have come a long way. In their first three seasons their best Sunday League record included only four wins, which they managed twice. They more than doubled that output this year when their 10-4 record was good enough for first place in the West division of the Southeastern section.

The season was highlighted by their sole possession of first place in the West at midseason, but a few late losses resulted in a tie for first with Utica. Evansville lost the tiebreaker and had to head to Fort Atkinson in the playoffs as a result.

But it’s not as if Evansville didn’t give Fort a run for their money. After being down by four runs early in the game, the Jays came back to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth behind the strength of a Nick Manion two run homer.The game went to extra innings, but Fort Atkinson ousted the Jays when a Scott Kammer RBI single scored Brandon Krigbaum in the bottom of the tenth to cap off an exciting finish.

When asked about the outcome after the game, Generals manager Jim Roethel replied, “Well, as soon as my heart gets back to normal.”

Evansville could have rolled over when down by a score of 5-1, but fought back in a valiant effort.

“We made a nice comeback,” said Jays manager Bob Kurtz. “I'm proud of our guys, the way they battled back in this game. I'm proud of every one of them because they stuck their nose in there and got it done, but we came up on the short end.”

At the very least, Evansville served notice to the rest of the league that they’re for real. While some sections take eight teams to the playoffs, the Southeast only takes four. Simply qualifying for the playoffs was an accomplishment in itself.

For the young team, it will be a learning experience. Evansville won a lot of close games earlier in the year. And now that they were on the losing end of a close game, they have no choice but to look back, reflect and learn from their season ending loss.

“We won a lot of games in the last inning and extra innings,” said Kurtz. “I think we won three extra inning ball games, and that put us where we were in the standings. We just came out on the short end of it today.”

After the game, the Jays had a discussion in the visitors’ dugout, and suddenly things didn’t seem so bad even though their season had just ended.

Frey relayed the essence of it: “Bob said it at the end of the game, maybe we put Evansville on the Home Talent map.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Sun Prairie at DeForest on Sunday August 17 at 1:00 for the right to go to the Final Four.
Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

Monday, August 4, 2008

Veteran duo put Utica on the map

UTICA, Wis. – On Saturday’s regular season finale against rival Stoughton during the annual Utica Festival, the two people with arguably the most influence on Utica baseball didn’t take the field.

Just because they didn’t play doesn’t mean their presence wasn’t felt, though. Dale Vike and Scott Hestnes are as much a part of the Utica Festival as the tractor pulls.

If Hestnes doesn’t ring a bell, maybe “Scoobie” does as he’s more well-known in Home Talent circles. The forty-something southpaw teamed with the fifty-something Vike to form one of the Home Talent League’s most formidable batteries during Utica’s dominance in the early to mid-nineties.

“He was a helluva pitcher in his day,” said Vike about Hestnes. “I know. I caught him for about 10 years.” After establishing a team in 1990 after a four year layoff, it only took the duo two seasons to help lead the Utica Association to a league championship in ’91, which both call among their most memorable experiences in all their years of Home Talent.

“Just winning the championship,” said Vike, “I’ve always dreamed of that. That was the best memory.”

“That first year we were out here, we were competitive,” recalls Hestnes. “We just never could seem to put nine innings together. And then obviously '91 we put it all together, and it basically snowballed from there on out.”

As good as their on-the-field exploits were their off-the-field time spent together was just as memorable.

“We had a lot of fun times,” said Hestnes. “Probably after ballgames, a lot of late nights and early mornings out to Dale's farm after ballgames. Dale doing a lot of breakfast cooking with eggs and helping him milk cows in the morning.”

Strictly a manager now, Vike’s playing days are behind him. Hestnes, meanwhile, still pitches occasionally. The crafty left-hander now relies on guile and accuracy.

“Scoobie doesn’t look like he’s a very hard pitcher to hit, but he has a lot of really good off speed pitches even at his age,” said Stoughton manager Jim Winter. “He doesn’t throw very hard anymore, but he’s got enough off speed pitches that he keeps you off balance.”

If they’re smart, the younger Utica players will learn as much as possible from Vike and Hestnes. There’s a lot of baseball experience and knowledge between the two of them.

When he was younger, Vike played in the Cleveland Indians farm system. And Hestnes played in three college World Series during his time at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

The junior Utica players better soak up as much as they can as quickly as they can. The pair admit they’re closer to the end of their baseball careers than they are to the beginning. But as long as they’re having fun, like they had at Utica Fest, they’ll keep at it.

When asked about what keeps him playing baseball, Hestnes replied, “Just the competitiveness, the camaraderie, the fans. Watching the other guys come up through. Days like this, you know?”

Those who follow Home Talent know exactly what he means.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Evansville at Fort Atkinson on Sunday August 10 at 1:00 for the Jays’ first ever playoff appearance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Game at Ashton like stepping back in time

ASHTON, Wis. – There might be a portal taking passengers back in time when driving east down county road K outside of Madison. About one mile east of the beltline lies the tiny community of Ashton, unmarked on most Wisconsin roadmaps. It’s hard to believe the unincorporated community could support a baseball team, but it does.

It was a look into a bygone era on Sunday when Ashton hosted Middleton for an old-timers game before the current versions of the same teams played their regular season finale. For a large Home Talent congregation of a couple hundred fans, it was as if they had wandered into the set of Field of Dreams with cornstalks lined up along the outfield fence.

Even Milt Friend was on the mound for Middleton, the same Milt Friend who pitched for Middleton back in the 1960s, now seventy-two years of age.

“I try to make sure I'm around for this game because it's a great deal of fun,” said Friend. “There’s really good ballplayers, and it’s nice to see some of the guys you've played with back twenty, thirty, forty years ago. You look at, these guys can still swing the bat. They still make the plays fielding. It's a fun game. It really is. I just like to see the camaraderie. Somebody gets a good hit, and other guys congratulate him. It's not a blood game, you know? And yet, the guys try. They want to get hits, and pitchers want to get the guys out. Within limits.”

Friend has seen it all in amateur baseball, from the South to the Canadian border, as he says. He’s played from the Catskills League and the Twilight League in New York to the Rock River League and the Industrial League in Wisconsin. He’s even played in the adult World Series out in Phoenix on the Major League Baseball spring training diamonds. But the Home Talent League might just be the best of all his baseball experiences.

“For me, this is the best of all of the leagues,” said Friend. “You get good fan turnout. It’s hometown baseball. It's really quality baseball, but yet it's fun. I mean, look at how many people are here.”

The fans came for the old-timers game and stayed for the regular season finale. The fans, after all, are what Ashton is known for, so says current Ashton manager Dave Adler.

“There's not a whole lot here,” said Adler. “About 20 houses and a tavern and a church, and that's about all you need. We've got good support because we get anywhere from 150 to 500 people at a game.”

When going to Ashton, it’s almost as if the fans watch the game in black and white. Played on the grounds of St. Peter’s Park, Home Talent baseball has been played here for 61 years in the shadow of the large stone steeple of the adjoining church.

Behind the backstop is a memorial to Connie Grob, former Major League pitcher for the Washington Senators back in the 1960s who played for the Ashton and Cross Plains Home Talent League teams before and after his professional career. Just a stone’s throw away from the field is Connie’s Home Plate, the community’s only tavern formerly owned by Grob.

It was day where the past and present came together and meshed into one. The old-timers game was a chance for guys who played together in high school to renew the rivalries from when they played against each other in Home Talent.

“That's kind of what it's all about,” said Middleton manager Darrell Hellenbrand. “It's just a good get-together.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Stoughton at Utica on Saturday August 2nd at 1:00 for the 37th annual Utica Festival.

Home Talent photo blogging

Memorial to former Major League and Home Talent pitcher Connie Grob at St. Peter's Park in Ashton.

Home Talent photo blogging

Fans gather at St. Peter's Park in Ashton for the old-timers game.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Home Talent photo blogging

Home plate is here in Waunakee.