by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor
Lance Dalbey stepped up to the plate with the score tied in the last of the eighth inning of the rec softball league finals Monday at Orono Park. One swing could win the title for Tootsie’s Tavern Orange, and Dalbey was just the guy to do it.
Sure enough, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound right-hander crushed one over the center-field fence, a no-doubter as soon as he made contact.
“I thought they’d walk me, probably. I didn’t think I’d get a swing,” said Dalbey, who went 8-for-10 with four singles, two doubles and two homers as Tootsie’s swept Shooters 13-3 and 21-20 in the finals.
The 38-year-old Zimmerman girls basketball coach has been ripping the ball like that for 20 years on softball fields around the state and nation, playing for hand-picked, high-level powerhouses that win national titles, along with low-key rec teams like Tootsie’s. That certainly wasn’t his first walk-off homer.
Dalbey helped Long Haul Trucking of Albertville win Class A nationals in 2005 and 2007, and Showcase Enterprises, a metro area team, win the 2006 Class B nationals.
“Dalbey is a freak,” said Ross Orrock, a former athlete-of-the-week who plays against him in Elk River. “He’s easily a top-100 player in Minnesota, probably top-50.”
His big team this year is MIC Budweiser of Chanhassen. They’re playing in Class B nationals this weekend in Andover. His local teams are Tootsie’s on Monday’s and TNT in Zimmerman on Tuesdays. “TNT means ‘Teachers not teaching,’ “ he grins.
Dalbey was inducted into the Mora High School Sports Hall of Fame this spring. He was a three-year starter at shortstop, and two-time all-conference pick, for the Mustangs (class of 1993), while scoring 1,285 points in basketball, which was the school record for many years.
The baseball star never played another inning of hard-ball, though, having started slow-pitch while in high school. “I just like softball better. Softball is fast, busy, exciting, quick-paced, lots of runs,” says Dalbey, “and I’ve been pretty good at it since I was 18.”
Starting in Mora and gradually working his way down to the metro area, he’s been a .600 to .700 hitter through his career with hundreds of homers.
Originally a shortstop, he has lost a step or two and now plays second in rec leagues and first on the high-level teams. “Getting a little old and feeble,” he says. “I’ve had some injuries. I had a hip flexer this spring and I was out six to seven weeks. I miss being fast.”
Dalbey played two years of basketball at Bethel College while majoring in English. But he had another passion going at the time: rock music. Dalbey and some buddies formed a band called Big Fat Jam and that was his occupation for eight years, along with substitute teaching. He was a lead singer and played guitar.
“We toured the country and did a lot of cool stuff. We wrote all our own songs,” said Dalbey, adding the that group didn’t make a lot of money but had a blast. He enjoys having his band’s poster in his classroom so the kids know their English teacher was a rocker once.
The rock life is behind him now except for his hobby of collecting old vinyl albums. There’s about 900 of them in his living room.
Dalbey belatedly embraced the teaching and coaching profession at around age 30, starting at Champlin Park and Mora, and got his first head coaching job in 2010-11 with Monticello girls basketball. He helped a struggling program improve from 2-24 the year before he took over to a section runner-up finish his second year. But he didn’t have a full-time teaching job there and left when an English position opened at Zimmerman.
Shortly after, the girls hoops job became available too. He took over a similar situation there as the Thunder were 2-26 the year before. They showed solid progress last year with an 11-16 mark.
“I didn’t think I’d like coaching girls, but found that I do,” said Dalbey, who also coaches JV baseball. “Getting to teach them, and influence them, is really fun. I never dreamed I would enjoy coaching as much as I do.”
THE DALBEY SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 38 … Family: single; parents and sister in Mora … Occupation: English teacher, basketball coach, Zimmerman … Home town: Mora … College: Bethel
Favorite stuff — TV show: “Breaking Bad” … Movie: “Miracle” … Food: “Anything hot” …. Best book read lately: “Not Dead & Not for Sale,” a bio of rocker Scott Weiland … Drink: Trying to get off coffee and switch to hot apple cider … Hobby: collecting rock vinyl LP’s … Team: Twins