Area athletes combine forces for Austin VFW baseball team

Published 10:36 pm Sunday, August 2, 2009


If you can’t beat them, join them.

That’s what a few Hayfield baseball players must have been thinking when they signed on to play for the Austin Post 1216 VFW team the past two summers.

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Post 1216, which will play in the state tournament, has three players from Hayfield and four from Southland on a squad that is mixed with a plethora of area athletes along with the Austin players.

Over the last two springs, the Vikings have lost their last five postseason games to the Rebels. Southland ended Hayfield’s season in the Section finals and went on to take second at state in 2008 and Southland knocked off Hayfield in the Subsection final in 2009. 

“Alan May (of Southland) is a real good baseball player and it’s fun to play with him,” said center fielder Tyler Krekling of Hayfield, who is on the Post 1216 team. “The rivalry (between Hayfield and Southland) is now intensified. We get along with each other, but we’re both competitive. We’ve been playing together for a couple years now so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”


A formula for winning

May, who threw 14 innings the last three weekends, pitched Austin to two wins in the District 1 playoffs to help the team get to the state tournament – which takes place in St. Cloud Aug. 6-Aug. 9. He is enjoying his time playing with players from other schools.

“They’re all great athletes. It’s fun to know how they do it at their schools and they can see how we do it,” May said.

Austin will open state tournament play Thursday at 2 p.m. at Putz Field in the double-elimination tournament.

Of the 20 players on Post 1216’s roster, 10 are from Austin (seven attend Austin High School and three attend Mayo High School), two are from Byron, and one is from Triton.

When head coach Joe Serratore took over the VFW program three years ago, it was hurting for funds, so he approached the Austin Area VFW and asked if it would be OK to use players from other towns.

“They said not only should you have those players on the team, but they should play as well,” Serratore said. “The Austin Area VFW has members who pay dues in Adams and Blooming Prairie, so how could you tell kids from those towns that they can’t play when there is no VFW post in their town?”

While Serratore admits allowing other towns’ kids to come in may reduce the playing time of some Austin players, he said no Austin players were turned away from the team.

“It was never done to alienate Austin kids,” he said.

While playing time is hindered for some Austin players, Serratore feels it gives them an advantage to play on a winning team with players of the caliber of May and Krekling, who were both All-Herald team selections as sophomores, and pitcher and shortstop Logan Spitzack of Triton, who was named to the Owatonna People Press’s All Area team.

“They all get the opportunity to play the game with kids who are as dedicated as they are to the sport,” Serratore said. “It’s not just one guy who cares out there, they all do.”


Shrugging off the backlash

Some of the teams on Post 1216’s schedule were a little miffed at the fact that it’s not just Austin players. But the mix is nothing new as these players have played together for the last few years and the Austin VFW has brought in Southland players for about 30 years.

“We get a little crap because these kids are from different towns. But you know what? All the Austin kids that wanted to play got to play and are part of it,” Serratore said. “People are deceived by the fact that we have out of town kids on the team. It’s within the rules and they don’t have VFW posts in those towns.”

The fact that Austin went 26-6 and earned its first state berth since 1995 is one of the reasons some other teams may look down on the mixture of the roster.

“Austin has always been an ambassador of little town kids coming into play, it’s always been that way,” Serratore said. “But now when you win and there’s just as many kids from out of town as in town, people take more notice.”


Fitting in nicely

Outfielder Quinn Yocom, who is from Austin, said the players from AHS were glad to get help from some other towns.

“It’s nice to compete with the Rochester teams and actually beat them,” Yocom said. “We don’t usually beat them during the school year. It gives you more confidence when you have better players on your team to help out.”

The small town players have also blended in seamlessly with the Austin bunch.

“They fit in pretty good, just like any other player,” Yocom said.

The collobaraton gives the players from smaller towns a chance to compete with the likes of the Rochester schools, Owatonna and Albert Lea.

“It’s bigger competition and it’s nice to see how we can compete against them,” said May.

And while Krekling’s Vikings still haven’t gotten past Southland. At least they can say they played in a state baseball tournament, thanks, in part, to their rivals during the high school season.

“Alan’s been to state once when he knocked me out,” Krekling said. “It’s fun to finally go to state for something. Hopefully we can bring back a trophy.”


End of an era

Since the majority of the squad will be too old to play VFW next year, the team of many towns that has played together for three years will most likely be broken up. To play Legion baseball in Austin, players playing for out of town schools would have to get permission from their hometown Legion to play for another town.

But chances are they’ll still follow each others’ careers as they move on.

“They all follow each other over the winter season to see how they’re doing in their other sports,” Serratore said. “It makes sports much more interesting.”

They’ll also walk away with a few more friends.

“We all hang out and we like the same stuff, like baseball,” Krekling said. “All the families have gotten to know each other and I’ve made friends. It’s great.”



In 2006, when the core group of this year’s VFW team was 13, Joe Serratore formed the Tri-County All-Stars, which was composed of players from Hayfield, Blooming Prairie, Kasson, Byron, and Triton.

That team went 64-6, won the Gopher state title, took third in the ‘AAA’ state tournament against bigger schools, and won the ‘AA’ Regional in Omaha, Neb.

In the 2007, the All-Stars jumped up to ‘AAA’ and added Southland players.

That team went 29-9 and played in every state tournament, handing eventual state champion Eastview its only loss of the season.

In 2008, the All-Stars join the Austin VFW team. With 32 players and 76 games in the schedule, the team shuffled its lineup around and played in the Twilight League as well as the VFW league.

Austin VFW went 41-35 and 6-6 in District 1 games.