by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Kenny Ott’s 47th season as a town-team baseball manager ended quicker than he and his Elk River Pioneers anticipated, with a two-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Isanti Redbirds last weekend.
The Pioneers had beaten Isanti during the regular season but got pounded 16-2 on Friday in Isanti and were ousted with a 7-5 loss on Saturday at home. They finished 7-13.
“We fielded better than last year, and we usually hit, too, but we couldn’t get the hits in the clutch,” reflected Ott. “We just left way too many on base, all year.”
After an encouraging 4-1 start, the Pioneers lost six straight, then won three of five, but finished with a four-game skid.
Players missing games due to other pursuits was a problem this year as it typically is with town-team baseball. The longtime manager remembers when there was more commitment from players.
“But it seems like there’s a lot more going on nowadays,” he conceded.
Another problem was no mound mainstay. Josh Juntunen had two good outings as a starting pitcher early in the season, looking like the No. 1 pitcher the team needed, but came down with Lymes disease, missed several games, and finished 1-3 with 4.71 ERA. Tucker Morrell (3-2 record, 3.83 ERA) had the best record among five starters.
“We never could put together a good pitching rotation,” said Ott. “But they’d pitch good enough to win sometimes, and we didn’t get it done.”
The roster included five players from the Elks state tournament fifth-place team. Two of whom committed to town team rather than the Legion (Hollom and Meyer) and three played primarily for the Legion (Nyquist, Andrew McMillan, and Alex Babock) but helped the Pioneers, too.
“We’ve got some good young guys who want to play ball,” said Ott, “and we should be better next year.”
Ott, 77, has managed the same Pioneers franchise all 47 years, although his club has moved from Nowthen to St. Francis back to Nowthen and now Elk River for the past seven years.
The long-ago Elk pitcher (Class of 1953) credits baseball with helping to keep him young. “It gives you something to get you going,” he said.
This year, though, Ott had to make a couple concessions after injuring his rotator cuff in a fall in the ice in March. He couldn’t coach third base, and he couldn’t give infield practice. His longtime lieutenant Dale Kaminski took over those duties.
“It was kind of tough, not doing those things I’ve always done,” he said.
But, with Kenny Ott, there’s always next year.