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Scott Mansch: Small-town product Altermatt is now a White Sox prodigy

Nick Altermatt, from the humble town of Wanda, is chasing his baseball dream in the minor leagues

The Altermatt family of Wanda includes Sam and his wife, Kelly, and their sons (from left) Ty, Nick, Josh and Blake. (Photo courtesy of Nick Altermatt)
The Altermatt family of Wanda includes Sam and his wife, Kelly, and their sons (from left) Ty, Nick, Josh and Blake. (Photo courtesy of Nick Altermatt)
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The village of Wanda, Minnesota, located in Redwood County between Sanborn and Lamberton in southwest Minnesota, is not really known for baseball.

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“There is a softball diamond there,” Nick Altermatt said. “We used to have two, but one of them got taken over by a horse pasture. If that doesn’t sum up the town I don’t know what else does.”

Altermatt is a thoroughbred ball player who is putting his tiny hometown on the professional baseball map. Indeed, he’s a baseball hero from a small town headed for the big-time.

The 22-year-old star from Minnesota State was last month selected in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox. He signed a contract and is now with the team’s Arizona Complex League in suburban Phoenix.

That’s a long way from home, but Altermatt took time to talk about his hometown this week in a phone interview. What’s Wanda (pop. 72 in 2020 census) like?

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“We have a bank, a post office, a church and a little restaurant-bar that all the locals go to, which is about 10 of them,” Altermatt said with a chuckle. “It’s a pretty homey town. I like it there.”

Scott Mansch
Scott Mansch

The 6-1, 230-pounder is a fireballing right-handed pitcher and shortstop who starred both offensively and defensively at Minnesota State. He earned Division II All-American and all-Northern Sun Intercollegiate College honors this spring both as a pitcher (10-1, 2.93 ERA, 75 strikeouts in 58-plus innings) and hitter (.378, 11 homers, 64 RBIs) and is considered one of the top players in the great baseball tradition at the school.

Altermatt has a fastball that’s been consistently clocked in the mid-90s and several times has touched 97 mph. Obviously the professional scouts noticed, and for now at least he’s a full-time pitcher in the White Sox organization.

Derrick Jenniges has been the Lamberton Long Sox manager for two decades and has known Altermatt for many years.

“Nick started playing ball in our youth baseball program in Lamberton when he was in fourth grade and has been playing on our amateur team since he was 15,” Jenniges said. “He’s a baseball guy, and when you’re a baseball guy you’re able to pay attention to the finer details of the game and use that to your advantage. He’s a guy who has a true passion for the game of baseball.

“To think that a kid from the little town of Wanda, Minnesota, has this opportunity in professional baseball is really something neat.”

Jenniges recalls when Altermatt was about 16 and pitching for the town team Long Sox in the regional tournament against traditional power New Ulm.

“It was after his sophomore year in high school and we went to Nick to get the last five outs of the game,” Jenniges said.

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No problem. Nick was up to the task and the Long Sox qualified for the state tournament.

“It was an eye-opener for some folks,” Jenniges said. “We knew right then he was going to be a special kind of talent.”

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The Altermatt family includes parents Sam and Kelly, and sons Blake, Josh, Nick and Ty. All four boys played baseball at Wabasso High and now for the Lamberton Long Sox.

“We all grew up playing some form of baseball in the backyard,” Nick said. “I’ve been telling people since I was about 7 years old that I was going to be a professional baseball player.”

He paused.

“I guess the dream came true and I’m very grateful for it,” Nick said.

It was an adjustment when he went from Wabasso High and Lamberton to Minnesota State in Mankato.

“That was a little shock to the system there,” Nick said.

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He’s truly in the big city now.

“The only real big place I’ve been to was Los Angeles, and that was for a school trip,” he said. “I’m not too comfortable in the big city, I would say, but hopefully soon I’ll start to get comfortable with them.”

Many back home are confident that Altermatt will climb the pro baseball ladder and one day reach the majors.

“I have no doubt that Nick will put in the time and do the work,” Jenniges said. “He’s a fierce competitor and a super-coachable guy, so it will sure be fun to watch him over the next few years.”

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Nick’s father owns Altermatt Construction. All the boys help in the family business.

“He comes from a hard-working family,” Jenniges said. “Nick definitely knows how to work, set some goals and get some things done.”

Matt Magers is the highly successful baseball coach at Minnesota State in Mankato. He is understandably proud of Altermatt, who as a freshman was the NSIC Newcomer of the Year as a shortstop and is the 37th player in Mavericks history to be picked in the MLB draft.

“His dad is a carpenter and Nick is very comparable to that because he has a lot of different tools,” said Magers, who is an uncle to the baseball-playing Kluis brothers (Derek, Dylan and Dugan) at Murray County Central. “Anything we asked him to do he does. He has an unselfish attitude and doesn’t take any shortcuts.

“When you get to professional baseball there’s a lot of players with equal talent, if not better, and ultimately it comes down to those intangibles. Like your work ethic, your attitude and how you handle adversity and failure ... I give a lot of credit to Nick’s parents as how they raised him. He’s certainly loyal and was a great teammate when he was here.”

Folks in Wanda and the surrounding area have respected the Altermatt work ethic for years. Now sports fans in southwest Minnesota and beyond know the family.

Because of baseball.

“It’s pretty wild how many people back home support you,” Nick said. “I think it’s really cool there’s a lot of people back home rooting you on and wishing the best for you.”

How many players from southwest Minnesota have been picked in the MLB draft, which began in 1965? It’s a short list. Among those on it are

Wade Wacker of Jackson, Brian Drent of Worthington, Jordan Milbrath of Springfield and Mike Nesseth of Windom. Lamberton’s Bob Gebhard, who starred in two sports at the University of Iowa, was selected in the 44th round of the ‘65 draft and eventually reached the majors before having a long and successful career as a big-league executive. Last summer, Gebhard was honored in his hometown of Lamberton, where a talented young pitcher with the Long Sox wondered if he’d one day also play pro ball.

Fast forward a year and Nick Altermatt has joined Gebhard as a Lamberton luminary.

“It’s a very humbling experience to know that all these people are looking up to me,” Altermatt said. “I’m just a normal guy, but I play baseball for my job.

“It’s very exciting and humbling,” he said. “I’m just very, very grateful. And I really appreciate the call from you.”

Scott Mansch can be reached at smansch5rockets@gmail.com

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Scott Mansch, who in a crowded Viking tavern has been known to say “Go Pack Go” at times in complete disregard for his health, can be reached at smansch5rockets@gmail.com
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