Baumgartner etched in Wilmont amateur baseball history
WILMONT -- As far as Sam Baumgartner is concerned, there's nothing better in the state of Minnesota than small town amateur baseball.
Baumgartner's passion for the game and his Wilmont Cardinals team was so great that the club decided to honor his contributions by retiring his No. 2 jersey during Friday's game against the Southwest Barnstormers.
"It means a lot to me that my teammates thought that highly of me and that I was deserving of such an honor," Baumgartner said. "It's just not something that you see every day at the amateur ranks."
Though Baumgartner forged many great memories during his 24 seasons playing for the Cardinals at Butts Probst Field, Friday was his first game in the stadium since he retired from the Wilmont team in 2009.
Baumgartner pitched in a green Barnstormers uniform during the game, but he felt right at home nonetheless.
"The only thing really that was strange about it was being in the opposite dugout," Baumgartner said. "It was weird to be on that side of the field and not running out onto the field from the normal third-base side. I certainly got to learn how hot that dugout is. It must be miserable for other teams coming to Wilmont and the sun's baking right in there."
Baumgartner was a founding member of the Barnstormers, which is a 35-and-over team currently playing in its third season. He played for both the Barnstormers and Cardinals in 2009.
He heard a rumor last year that his number may be retired when the Barnstormers were scheduled to play in Wilmont, but bad weather disrupted the schedule.
Baumgartner only caught wind that his number would be retired on Friday the day before the game.
"I had no idea it was coming this year until the day before," Baumgartner said. "I got a phone call from one of the Barnstormers players, he kind of let the cat out of the bag a little bit. It still was a complete surprise and an awesome honor. You don't know what to say."
Before Friday's game Baumgartner was presented with his No. 2 Wilmont jersey in a frame, with Sam "Bammy" Baumgartner printed on the plaque on the bottom of the frame.
At the bottom of the plaque are the words, "Forever a Teammate, Coach and Friend."
Baumgartner began his career with the Cardinals after his sophomore year of high school in 1986. During his career he helped the team rise from mediocrity into a perennial contender.
"When I first started we were just not a very good team at all, we were lucky to win two or three games a year," Baumgartner said. "Gradually we kept going along and getting more core players added to the team that were able to stick around. We started to build a much more competitive team that grew into a team that was able to compete and make it to the state level. I'm really proud of the fact that we made it to the state tournament five times in my career."
Although it was Baumgartner's teammates that decided to give him the honor of having his number retired, Baumgartner maintains that it was the entire unit of players during his days with the Cardinals that gave the team such success.
"It never really did dawn on me that I was compiling a career that was worthy of getting a number retired at the ballfield," Baumgartner said. "I think it just goes back to the group of guys when we started to be successful at Wilmont. We really just grew as a team, we were like brothers."
Baumgartner named teammates such as Jeff Appel, Jesse Teerink, Josh Noble, Troy Appel, Aaron Johnson, Cole Johnson and Brett Wiltrout as being part of a core of players that helped establish a winning tradition in Wilmont that continues to this day.
Baumgartner has also found success with the Barnstormers, who made it to a state championship game within their first two years of existence.
Having no desire to pull a Brett Favre and go back on his word after retiring, Baumgartner has found that playing a less strenuous schedule with the Barnstormers has allowed him to continue to get his fix of baseball without it disrupting other commitments with his family.
"It's been a lot of fun," Baumgartner said of his time with the Barnstormers. "It's certainly made the transition from retiring from Wilmont a little easier. It's helped keep me from wanting to unretire, certainly. I never wanted to be one of those players that did that either -- once I called it quits in Wilmont that was going to be it for me."
Among his Barnstormers teammates are talented players that he used to play against while he was with the Cardinals, and while he is humbled by the gesture of having his number retired, he hopes Wilmont's act will serve as an example to other teams to honor players that have impacted the histories of those teams.
"There certainly are other quality ballplayers around that I have played against over the years that probably would be just as deserving of such an honor," Baumgartner said. "It would be great if this helps inspire some amateur ball teams in the area to do the same for some of the other players, because they're certainly deserving of some sort of recognition too for all that they've contributed."