Bright outlook: Amateur baseball returns soon, and the Cubs are moving to the Gopher League
The Worthington Cubs, long a staple in the First Nite League, will be moving to the Gopher League this season
The Worthington Town Team was a charter member of the First Nite League back in 1949 and with just a few exceptions has remained there every summer.
But this season the Cubs will play baseball in the Gopher League.
“I personally like it,” Worthington manager Ryan Swanson said. “Really, the Gopher and First Nite are one big league, but the main difference is we’ll play some of those other teams twice instead of once.
“In terms of the talent it’s about the same. Both the Gopher and First Nite leagues are tough with a lot of good players. But it will be nice to change things up a little bit.”
Both leagues will have seven teams this summer and both are in Region 13, which will again send three teams to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament.
Opening Day is rapidly approaching, with several clubs slated to play May 1. The Cubs will open the season May 8 at the Milroy Irish. Worthington’s home opener is the following Sunday afternoon, May 15, against Ruthton.
The Cubs have recently played in the First Nite along with teams from Fairmont, Fox Lake, Heron Lake, Windom, Jackson, Lakefield and Mountain Lake.
Tracy has left the Gopher League, leaving only six teams in it: Hadley, Pipestone, Luverne, Ruthton, Adrian and the Milroy Irish. So the Cubs are switching over to the venerable Gopher League, which dates back nearly 100 years in southwest Minnesota.
Thus there will be balance with seven teams each in the two leagues. Worthington has flip-flopped between leagues several times in the past but for the most part has played in the First Nite League.
So it will be a bit of a change-up this summer.
“Our biggest rival is now probably Adrian,” said Swanson. “Just because they’re the closest and they do have some Worthington guys on their team. And now we’ll see them twice.”
Worthington will play First Nite League teams once each. The Gopher and First Nite playoffs start July 20, with the Region 13 competition slated to begin July 27.
The 99th annual Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament is set for Aug. 19-Sept. 5 at sites in Dundas, Faribault and Miesville.
The Cubs haven’t approached a .500 record in recent years. They figure to be improved, as several veteran players are currently playing college ball.
“Every year we seem to be getting a little bit better,” said seventh-year skipper Swanson, who was a baseball standout at both Worthington High and Minnesota West and is now an accountant for Nobles County. “I think we’ll be very competitive.”
The Cubs don’t charge for admission at their games on the diamond at Worthington Middle School. Full concessions will again be available thanks to volunteer work from the Worthington Area Youth Baseball Association, which plows profits back into the facility.
And it really showed last year.
“Everybody was like ‘Holy cow, this is the best we’ve ever seen this field,’ ” Swanson said, noting that Dan Bruns is an exceptional groundskeeper. “It made us all proud that this is our home park.”
Jason Turner is the president of WAYBA.
While the Cubs won’t have their home opener for several weeks, the May 8 game at the fantastic Irish Yard in Milroy holds much anticipation for Swanson and his ballplayers.
“It’s almost a field of dreams, you might say,” Swanson said. “It’s a beautiful field in the middle of a cornfield. They take great care of it and it’s just sweet.”
The Gopher and First Nite schedules were released recently by longtime league secretary Myron Bennett of Hadley. Other openers slated May 1 include Mountain Lake at Lakefield, Jackson at Heron Lake and Hadley at Ruthton.
Games set for May 8 in addition to the Cubs-Irish clash include Mountain Lake at Fairmont, Windom at Jackson, Ruthton at Adrian, Fox Lake at Hadley, and Luverne at Pipestone.
Last year, teams from Luverne, Windom and Milroy advanced to the state tournament.
Worthington has earned state-tourney trips seven times, most recently in 2016 when the Cubs qualified for the first time in 33 years.