State-bound Diamondbacks have ‘one heck of a mix’

Published 8:19 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

HAYFIELD — Travis Kauffman of Hayfield is only 26 years old, but he already has 18-year olds referring to him as ‘dad.’

Kauffman has earned that nickname as manager of the Dodge County Diamondbacks because he has a fatherly way of telling players when to show up to games and practices. The Diamondbacks are a state-bound Class C amateur baseball team that was put together two years ago when the Hayfield Heat and Kasson had to combine their squads due to a lack of players on both teams. What has transpired in the two years since the merger is a highly competitive, fun loving squad that played its way in to the Class C state amateur baseball tournament last weekend.

“It’s one of the more fun teams I’ve been around,” said Kauffman, who also catches for the Diamondbacks. “It’s been one heck of a mix. Everyone’s talented, but I almost compare it to a bunch of guys who just want to have fun and they play the game the right way. I’ve never laughed so much in a dugout as I have this season.”

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The Diamondbacks have several players with college baseball experience, including Hayfield High School baseball coach Kasey Krekling, who once pitched for Waldorf and Hayfield grad Cam Rutledge, who played for RCTC the past two years and will play at Bethany Lutheran next spring.

Kasey Krekling pitches for the Dodge County Diamondbacks against Stewartville-Racine earlier this summer. Photo Provided by Mary Nelson

Rutledge went against some of the Kasson players when he played for the Hayfield Vikings in high school, but now he’s embraced being on the same team as them.

“I’ve been playing with most of these guys for five years now,” Rutledge said. “I’ve learned a lot from them and they I know what they’re doing. We definitely have the talent level.”

Kauffman said the team has such a deep pitching staff that the Diamondbacks haven’t even had to use some of their quality pitchers in the team’s playoff run. Hayfield’s clear ace is Krekling, a 29-year old, who is pondering making this season his last one as a player.

Kauffman has also considered hanging it up after this summer.

“Travis and I had a nice hug after we clinched the berth to the state tournament,” Krekling said. “We kind of knew going into this year that it could be our last year. If it is our last year, it’s kind of cool knowing that it will be at the state tournament.”

Krekling and Kauffman helped lead the Hayfield Heat to the Class C state amateur baseball tournament in the Heat’s second season in 2012. The Heat lasted for five years before the Diamondbacks merger, which has been a big success on and and off the field.

“We got along well, even when we used to play each other. It made sense to have a merger,” Krekling said. “After almost every game we go out and have some food together. It’s always fun. It’s a lot of good guys trying to have fun playing baseball.”

Kauffman said there were times this season when he didn’t think his team would win a game in the postseason becasue it was struggling so much at the plate. But he credited the squad with sticking with it and battling.

Now Kauffman’s starting to second guess if he can give up playing amateur baseball next summer. Kauffman enjoys helping out the younger players and he likes being around the game, but he’s not sure he can keep on playing it.

AJ Yusten makes a throw for the Dodge County Diamondbacks agaisnt Stewartville-Racine earlier this season. Photo Provided by Mary Nelson

“You go back to when you were five years old hitting off a tee and a lot of the kids don’t even know how to run to first base,” Kauffman said. “Now we’re playing with some of the best amateur players in the state. It’s kind of nice knowing we’ll be able to go out on a gorgeous field, playing some good teams and we’re doing it with our friends.”

While Krekling and Kauffman are winding down their baseball playing days, Rutledge is still getting started. At Hayfield, his team was one win from the first state tournament appearance in school history in his senior season, but he missed out on the postseason in the last two springs because RCTC was ineligible to compete in the tournament. Rutledge has embraced his time with the Diamondbacks and he’s hoping to have a good run at Bethany Lutheran as well.

“Since I haven’t been able to be in the playoffs the last couple of years, I’ve been taking this year a lot more seriously. It’s nice to get back into it again. Everyone wants to win and you’re trying to make it as far as you can,” Rutledge said. “With all of the success we’ve had this summer, I don’t want it to stop. I’m really excited to get over to Mankato and play some ball over there.”

The Class C state amateur baseball tournament includes 32 teams and it will begin Aug. 20 and end on Sept. 4. It will be held in Norwood, Hamburg and Green Isle. If the Diamondbacks can win a seeding game this weekend, they’ll jump straight to the final 16 teams at state.

The Diamondbacks split their home games at Hayfield and Kasson this summer.