by Eric Oslund
The Elk River Wood Ducks had high expectations when the 2017 season began. They had a good mix of returning players that previously played big roles on the team, and talented youngsters ready to prove their worth.
They were 8-5 through the month of June, but things would begin going south for them in July. Two of their pitchers, Eric Nyquist and A.J. Overton, suffered injuries early and were never able to get back on the mound, and then the real world just started to get in the way for many of the other players.
Whether it was because of vacations, family responsibilities, or their jobs – players began having a hard time making it out to games, which really limited the things the Wood Ducks were able to do out on the field.
“If we don’t have everybody there, we don’t really have all the pieces because we kind of manufacture a lot of runs,” head coach Jim Brown said. “It’s nice to have 14 guys or so, so we can put the pieces together. Otherwise we’re kind of limited, especially on offense.”
When their roster was full, they had no problem manufacturing the runs they needed. Plugging a fresh new guy into the lineup when needed to best utilize his strengths, but as the season progressed that became more and more difficult.
Often times they would be playing with just 10 or so players, and missing their big bats, so a player better known for getting on base, or bunting people over, was suddenly hitting in the No. 4 or 5 spot and expected to drive in a lot of runs.
“The guys that are in the lineup every day towards the end, a lot of them are doing their job, but they’re not a four or five hitter, but they end up becoming that because we’ve got nothing else,” Brown explained. “We have to have our full roster in order to piece it together.”
That limited lineup didn’t help with pitching either. The Wood Ducks would usually have a quality starter, but things would get dicey if they couldn’t throw a complete game. There was usually another quality starter ready to go behind them, but Brown wouldn’t want to throw them out there since they would often need them in Game 2 of a double header or the next day.
So often times it was players that didn’t have much experience on a pitching mound heading out there.
“We just were a couple arms short,” Brown said. “It’s that simple, the adage is true. You never know with pitching, you think you do. When two of your innings guys go down, and then we had to let a guy go, that hurt as well.”
And that limited roster really became evident come tournament time. Their first game was on July 28 against Coon Rapids on the road where they lost 10-3. It was close for most of the game, and the Wood Ducks were a couple feet away from cutting it to 5-4 in the eighth, but their runner got thrown out at home and Coon Rapids would go on a big run in the bottom of the inning.
The Wood Ducks had a chance to respond on July 29, but their bats remained silent as they were shutout in the 3-0 loss, ending their season much earlier than they were hoping.
For the moment, the future remains a little hazy for this local ball club, but Brown is confident that they will be back better than ever in 2018.
“I told the guys after our last games, ‘I don’t want anyone to call me two days from now saying you’re done or you’re not done,’” he began. “Nobody knows and it’s a long ways away. For the most part, this group, there is no body disgruntled or anything. Everybody likes the group, so I think if they’re available – they’re local and still in the area – they’re going to want to come back. We’ll try to add what we can to help where we’re missing. You always need to refuel.”