Hounds add six Blue Sox players
While amateur baseball season is still two months away, it’s hard for the Austin Greyhounds to not be excited.
That’s because the Hounds added six players from the Austin Blue Sox to their roster in a move that shook up the entire amateur baseball scene in town. The former Blue Sox who will be playing for their former rivals will be first baseman Dan Swift, outfielders Nate Johnson and Andy Swank, infielder Joe Kroc and pitchers Nels Nelson and Joe Huffman.
Their reason for leaving is simple — they want to win.
“We all have the common goal of winning and winning solves a lot of issues,” said Swift. “There’s never been too much animosity between the two teams. We used to spend time together after the game and there was never a hatred.”
Swift said the offseason retirements of Blue Sox veterans Casey Toops and Aaron Port made it the perfect time to join the two teams. While the Blue Sox have been to state the last two summers, it made sense to have everyone play on the Hounds, because the team would’ve lost more players to the home rule (players can’t change teams once they move away from their hometown) if they stayed as the Blue Sox.
The new look Hounds
As it stands, Hounds co-manager and third baseman Matt Cano is pleased to be welcoming some new additions, but he knows it will not be easy as Austin’s section will now feature the Mankato Twins, who have won two state titles in the past 10 years. The Rochester Royals, who have won one title in the last decade, remain in the section and Marshall was also added.
“We’ve got some tremendous talent and we’re excited about representing Austin. Kroc, Swank, and Johnson all give us much more athletic ability and Dan Swift is a tremendous hitter,” Cano said. “But it won’t be easy and we need to work hard.”
The Hounds won two state titles early in the decade and the Blue Sox were originally added to create a team for younger players to play baseball, but, according to Cano, the state board forced Austin to have two Class ‘B’ teams and the two squads became rivals.
Cano said that the situation that will take place this summer is what was originally the plan.
“It was never the intention to have two Austin teams competing against each other and that’s just how it turned out,” he said. “Now we’re moving back towards our original goals. We want to get back to where we were six or seven years ago and have the most competitive team we could have to try and win a state championship.”
Blue Sox must rebuild
For the Blue Sox, this summer will be much different than years past. They’ve changed to a Class ‘C’ team and they also lost six players to the Hayfield Heat, which means they’ll have just a handful of returnees.
Blue Sox manager Josh Kunze returns as he said he couldn’t leave the team after taking it over in 2007.
“I was the only one who wasn’t for (the move to the Hounds) and I couldn’t leave this team the way it was after taking it over in 2007. I didn’t feel comfortable walking away,” he said.
Kunze is looking to make his team competitive this upcoming season, despite having a whole new squad.
“I don’t think it would be fair if we said we’re just going to be a kicking post for other teams (this summer). I’ve found a few good area guys who weren’t playing ball to join our team and we’re going to focus on trying to win games.”
Besides Kunze — Brandon Rector, Brady Klingfus, Mark Harber and Preston Higbe will return from last year’s squad. The Blue Sox will likely pick up all of the young players from Austin High who were on the Hounds last season as well.
“We’ve always had a young contingent on our team and we’ll look to keep young guys on the team. We’ll move forward as a ‘C’ team for at least one year,” Kunze said.
The move to Class ‘C’ makes things different for the Blue Sox. They won’t be able to use any college players unless they were with the team last year, and they will have to win a lot more games to get to state.
The Blue Sox’s section will feature Albert Lea, Owatonna, the Mankato Mets and the Waseca Braves. Two of those teams will advance to the final four, where one team will move on to a 32-team state tournament.
For the greater good
Joe Serratore, who formed the Blue Sox, was a big part of the meetings that involved the Hounds becoming Austin’s primary team and he hopes that the Blue Sox can still be competitive.
“The Blue Sox will have to modify the most and Josh now has an opportunity to coach some younger kids and it’s a great responsibility. He’s been pretty positive and we want to see the Blue Sox do well,” Serratore said. “(As for the Hounds), I felt it was time that we stop trying to beat each other and start playing together.”
The Hounds will also retain all of their regular players, with the exception of pitcher Dave Meyer, who is likely done playing amateur baseball.
Hounds’ co-manager John Frein is confident they’ll have a solid squad.
“We’re definitely one of the best teams in the state right now on paper,” he said. “What we’re doing makes sense for everyone. It gives Austin a chance to do well and we’re joining forces to increase our chances.”
Frein also thinks the players won’t have any trouble co-existing, despite being rivals for the last few years.
“A lot of our not getting along (before) was our competitive nature,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be forgotten and it never was anything serious, it was just part of the game. We’re confident and we’re happy to play together.”
Red Legs in Austin
While the Hounds and Blue Sox had makeovers over the winter, Serratore also started another baseball team that is based out of Austin. The Austin Red Legs will be an ‘A’ team that features players from all over — some of the local athletes will be Steve Serratore of Rochester Mayo, Alan May and Chris May of Southland, Logan Spitzack of Triton and Kyle Krings of Byron.
Serratore is starting the team — which will have players from Albert Lea and Rochester — as an experiment to get younger players started on amateur ball earlier. Those players’ legion teams will still take precedence over the Red Legs.
“This year it’s not going to be a high profile team but we’ll see where we want to go with it next year. It’s a secondary program and it’s purpose is to prepare these kids for amateur baseball,” Serratore said. “With our three teams, we’ll meet the needs of more people than we’ve met in the past.”
The Red Legs will have just a few games at Marcusen Park as they must play their league games on the road. The reason they are an ‘A’ team is so they can have players who live outside of a 30-mile radius of Austin on it.
A different kind of feel
This summer will be a much different one for the Blue Sox, who lost 1-0 to eventual state champ Shakopee in the state tournament last season, and all Kunze can do is look back.
“If we beat Shakopee last year, maybe this wouldn’t have happened, but we’ll have to see what happens,” Kunze said. “Those guys (the Hounds) are counting on are the same guys who lost to Shakopee last season. Time will tell if it was a good move.”
The Hounds will open their season May 15 and they host Rollin’ With the Hounds Saturday, March 12 at noon in Echo Lanes.