Last September, drafted Windom pitchers Ross Ackerman and Collin Lovell helped the Fairmont Martins win a Minnesota Amateur Baseball state championship.
This summer the Windom ace throwers would like to help their own teammates return to the state tournament, and the Pirates have some extra incentive on their side.
“Don Jackson was a legend, just a class act,” said Pirates’ manager Nick Kulseth. “We miss him.”
Jackson, a tireless Windom baseball advocate for more than 40 years, died last winter at age 82. The Pirates this year will wear a patch on their uniforms to honor Jackson’s memory.
“He taught me so much about baseball and working the field,” Kulseth said. “He was down there all the time, didn’t matter if it was 7 in the morning or 10 at night ... That patch is going to stay on our jerseys for a long time.”
On Sunday, the amateur baseball season got under way in southwest Minnesota. The Pirates, one of several talented and tradition-rich ball clubs in the Gopher and First Nite Leagues, opened with a 16-0 victory over Fox Lake. Lovell and Ackerman combined to strike out 22.
Mike Jackson, Don’s oldest son and a tremendous ball player back in the day, hit infield practice for the Pirates prior to Sunday’s game. Mike’s little brother Lance, who hasn’t played in several years, came out of retirement and contributed a base hit in the Windom victory.
“This time of year a lot of our guys are back in college, so we had Dane Nielson, Jeremy O’Donnell and Lance Jackson all playing. That’s three guys over 40 doing a good job,” Kulseth chuckled.
The Pirates didn’t earn one of Region 13C’s three state-tourney berths last fall. Those went to Fairmont, Hadley and Luverne. All four of those teams will again be striving to advance. And there is no shortage of contenders in 13C, which has a total of 15 clubs this year.
“The goal is the state tournament,” Kulseth said. “We’ve got another good arm back this year in Luke Gilbertson, to go along with Collin, Ross and Kobe (Lovell). Our pitching will be a strength. And Alex Fink (a Springfield native) will anchor us hitting-wise. He hit a homer Sunday in his first at-bat of the year.
“We’re looking forward to a fun summer, but it’s never easy getting out of the First Nite and Gopher Leagues.”
Defending state champion Fairmont began its title defense last weekend with a 15-5 victory over Worthington. Brothers Luke, Levi and Lance Becker combined for eight hits and nine RBIs.
Also posting season-opening wins last weekend were Luverne (13-1 over Lakefield), Heron Lake (2-0 over Mountain Lake), Adrian (5-2 over Tracy), the Milroy Irish (7-6 over Stark) and Hadley (3-0 over Ruthton). Also, the Pipestone A’s dropped their opener to a strong team from Brookings, S.D. (14-4).
Hadley’s Buttermakers, managed by Myron Bennett, have earned six consecutive trips to the state tournament thanks to a powerful lineup led by Nick Bruning, who had two RBIs in the victory over Ruthton. Pitchers Luke Drooger and Max Zwart combined on a two-hit shutout to defeat the Royals.
Adrian’s victory featured excellent pitching from Tucker Sorenson, who struck out nine and allowed only one hit in four innings. Ian Stamer went 4-for-5 for the A’s of manager Mike Preuss.
Heron Lake’s shutout victory included superb pitching by Jon Vega and David Volk. Logan Knutson had a two-run single to account for the game’s only runs.
Luverne defeated Lakefield as Ben Serie picked up the pitching victory. Kendall Meyer and Newt Johnson, two newcomers to the Redbird team, each had two hits.
Sunday’s schedule, with all games at 2 p.m. unless noted, features Milroy Irish at Luverne, Ruthton at Windom, Tracy at Hadley, Adrian at Pipestone, Fox Lake at Jackson (1 p.m.), Worthington at Lakefield, Fairmont at Heron Lake, and Worthington at Heron Lake (5 p.m.).