John's Journal
Class 3A Baseball Rankings4/12/2017
The Associated Press rankings for Minnesota high school baseball, provided by Let's Play Baseball newspaper.

CLASS 3A
1. Henry Sibley
2. Northfield
3. Mahtomedi
4. Little Falls
5. New Ulm
6. Marshall
7. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
8. Winona
9. Delano
10. Rocori
11. Mankato West
12. Waconia
13. Fridley
14. St. Cloud Tech
15. Bemidji
16. South St. Paul
17. Chisago Lakes Area
18. Hibbing
19. Faribault
20. Worthington
Also receiving votes: Albany, Hutchinson, Sartell-St. Stephen, Albert Lea, Alexandria, Kasson-Mantorville, Mankato East, St. Thomas Academy, Detroit Lakes, Red Wing, North Branch, St. Anthony Village, Orono, Austin, Willmar, Holy Angels, Jordan
Class 2A Baseball Rankings4/12/2017
The Associated Press rankings for Minnesota high school baseball, provided by Let's Play Baseball newspaper.

CLASS 2A
1. Minnehaha Academy
2. Belle Plaine
3. St. Cloud Cathedral
4. New Life Academy of Woodbury
5. Holy Family Catholic
6. Pierz
7. Paynesville Area
8. Annandale
9. Maple Lake
10. Jackson County Central
11. Fairmont
12. Rochester Lourdes
13. Foley
14. Melrose Area
15. Aitkin
16. Pine Island
17. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton
18. Minnewaska Area
19. New London-Spicer
20. Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove
Also receiving votes: Glencoe-Silver Lake, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Cannon Falls, St. Charles, Pipestone Area, Caledonia, Norwood Young America, Proctor, Frazee, Sauk Centre, Pequot Lakes
Class 1A Baseball Rankings4/12/2017
The Associated Press rankings for Minnesota high school baseball, provided by Let's Play Baseball newspaper.

CLASS 1A
1. Springfield
2. Parkers Prairie
3. Legacy Christian Academy
4. Randolph
5. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley
6. Wabasha/Kellogg
7. BOLD
8. Hinckley-Finlayson
9. Cherry
10. New York Mills
11. Ely
12. Heritage Christian Academy
13. New Ulm Cathedral
14. Mankato Loyola
15. Adrian
16. Wabasso
17. Deer River
18. Minneota
19. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
20. Ortonville
Also receiving votes: Mayer Lutheran, Red Lake County, Hayfield, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, Fosston, Canby, Lewiston-Altura, South Ridge, Central Minnesota Christian, Kimball Area, Cleveland, PACT Charter School, ML/GHEC/Truman, Murray County Central, Menahga, Nevis, Lyle/Austin Pacelli, United South Central, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, West Central, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Hill City/Northland, North Woods
Getting Back On Track As A New Season Begins 4/9/2017
The first weeks of the track and field season are all about preparation. Individual athletes and relay teams work on technique, speed and endurance while trying not to overdo things and risk injury. The goal is to be reaching top form near the midway point of the season and pushing through to – hopefully – the state championship meet in June.

A perfect example is Bloomington Kennedy senior Honour Finley, one of the top athletes in the state. She is coming off basketball season and working to get into track shape, with the goal of winning the Class 2A state title in the 400 meters for the third time and lowering the all-time state record of 53.96 seconds she set in 2016.

In her first outdoor meet of the season Friday, Finley won the 400 in 56.83, the 200 in 25.71 and was 13th in the long jump during the 14-team Knights Under the Lights Invitational at Irondale High School.

“I focus on getting back into track shape, making sure my form is still good and fine-tuning the little things,” she said of her early-season goals.

She’s focused less on her times right now and more on transforming from basketball condition to track condition, saying training for track takes more endurance.

“It’s a lot different,” she said. “There’s a lot of running in basketball but it’s not the same.”

Another high-level athlete making the change from basketball to track is Genuine Matthews. The senior from St. Francis placed second at state in the 2A boys 400 meters last year. After running one indoor meet, the Irondale invitational was Matthews’ first outdoor competition of 2017.

Matthews, who will be a college track athlete at North Dakota State, has focused his training on the 400 this year.

“It’s definitely different. I’m doing way more distances than last year, because I didn’t know that the 400 was going to be my main race until the end of the year,” he said.

One of the state’s top returning relay teams is the girls 4x200 unit from Waconia. They were state champs in 2016 with a time of 1:40.79; the state record is 1:40.08, set by Hopkins in 2010.

Allie Marrs was a senior on Waconia’s 4x200 team last year, but the other three runners return: current senior Molly Reighard and juniors Danielle Pioske and Madison Voigt.

“We know we kind of have that target on our back,” Pioske said after the Wildcats won the 4x200 at Irondale. “But it really pushes us to work harder and run better times. We definitely want to stay healthy and just keep working hard in practice and meets to get our times consistent to where they were at the end of last season.”

Voigt said, “Our goal is definitely to be better than we were and keep getting better. I think last year our plan developed through the season, where we just kind of moved things around, tested things out from meet to meet and saw how things went. We showed at the state meet that it worked.”

Another returning state finisher competing Friday was running on her home track. Irondale junior Julia Hayes was third at state in the 2A 100 and 300 hurdles last spring. She won both events Friday.

“I just want to improve from where I was last year at this point,” she said. “I didn’t have the fastest times at the beginning last year and I’m hoping to improve that.”

One of the most experienced state-meet athletes in Minnesota is North Branch senior distance runner Rhianna Rinke. She has qualified for state in track and cross-country every year since eighth grade and won the 1,600 on Friday at Irondale. She will run collegiately at Minnesota Duluth.

“I just want to PR as much as I can,” she said. “It’s my last high school season and I would love to go out with a bang and be happy.”

After running one indoor meet prior to the Knights Under the Lights Invitational, Rinke spoke for all the athletes when asked about competing outdoors for the first time in 2017.

“It feels good. I love the fresh air.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 572
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,559
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Baseball History Is Made Under A Glass Roof 4/4/2017
Terry Ryan was trying to do something he has done thousands and thousands of times in his life as a baseball man: enter a ballpark.

The former Minnesota Twins general manager, now a special assignment scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, had recently returned to his Twin Cities home from spring training in Florida, and Tuesday’s plan was to scout some prep baseball in Minneapolis. The only stumbling block was gaining access to U.S. Bank Stadium, which was hosting high school baseball for the first time. Ryan was delayed getting through security, waiting as personnel made phone calls and peered at a computer screen before admitting him.

For Ryan, the day was like many others: he watched young ballplayers, hoping to find someone who may be worth a closer look. For the boys from Moorhead and Sartell-St. Stephen, however, they were making history as the first high school teams to play in the new billion-dollar home of the Minnesota Vikings, as well as MSHSL soccer and football state tournament games.

Baseball is usually the same no matter the location, with balls and strikes and fly balls and groundouts. It’s not quite the same at U.S. Bank Stadium –where the University of Minnesota and other college baseball teams also play -- because the sky is behind a glass roof and no dirt can be found. The entire playing surface is artificial turf, including home plate, the base paths, the pitcher’s mound and the mounds in the bullpens down the left- and right-field lines. Anyone looking for a place to spit or dig in their spikes came up empty.

The Moorhead Spuds arrived a couple of hours before the 12:45 to 3:45 p.m. time slot that they and the Sartell Sabres had been allotted. Coach Greg Salvevold didn’t know what the result of such an early arrival would be, but the Spuds were allowed on the field, giving them extra time for practice before scrimmaging the Sabres for three hours.

“Usually we’re still inside,” Salvevold said. “Being able to be outside for this whole week and coming to U.S. Bank and getting live reps on the field, it’s awesome.”

The Sabres and Spuds brought a total of 56 uniformed players, and everyone got on the field. Two more three-hour time slots followed Tuesday, with Kasson-Mantorville and Holy Family in the stadium from 4 to 7 p.m., and Kenyon-Wanamingo and Medford taking their turn from 7:15 to 10:15 p.m. Other teams will follow throughout April; by the end of the month 60 Minnesota high school teams will have played inside the stadium.

Each team pays the stadium $975 for their three-hour slot; part of those funds go toward paying umpires. Until recently, Salvevold and Sartell coach Jerome Nemanich were not aware that they would be the first high school teams to play at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We didn’t know that,” Nemanich said. “They gave us the dates, and we just wanted to go during the third week of practice.”

Fans pay five dollars to watch from front-row seats if they wish. There was a smattering of spectators for the Moorhead-Sartell game, protected from foul balls and errant throws by a net that also covered the field-level suites that are used for Vikings games. The teams are housed in temporary dugouts, metal boxes with fenced fronts and rubber floors. Nemanich called them “chicken coops,” which was pretty accurate.

The football markings remain on the field, with additional white stripes put down for foul lines, batters boxes and outlines of the base paths.

The sounds of the game were standard stuff: “Let’s go 11!” and “Way to hang!” A second baseman was told to play as deep as he wanted, because “The ball’s gonna get there quick” on the turf. When the ball bounced, whether off the bat or into the ground on a pitch, tiny shards of rubber were kicked up in a strong imitation of infield dirt. The Sabres wore their full game uniforms while the Spuds were in numberless team T-shirts.The first pitcher to take the mound was Moorhead junior Sam Haiby, a Division I basketball recruit who is in her first year on the varsity baseball team.

As players wearing metal spikes walked from a behind-the-scenes batting cage to the field through a concrete corridor, a stadium employee said, “It sounds like an army marching in.”

Some outfielders and players sitting in the right field bullpen wore sunglasses to protect against the sun streaming through the roof. It was warm in the ballpark, warmer than any Minnesota ballplayer is accustomed to in April. The outdoor temperature was 62 degrees, and it was warmer than that inside.

“You don’t know how hot it is out there,” one of the Sabres said to his teammates after coming off the field and sitting in the shade of the chicken coop.

Afterwards, Moorhead senior Carter Howell said of the stadium, “It was pretty crazy, walking in and seeing it. I thought it would be more air-conditioned, be a little cooler.”

While the teams played, the business of the big stadium continued. Employees put a fresh shine on the floor in the exclusive Delta 360 Club behind the third-base dugout, a place for big spenders to hang out on Vikings game days. Later, a tour guide stood in the Delta 360 Club with a group of visitors. He explained how much club users pay for tickets, to which one of the tourists responded, “HOW much!?”

No scoreboards were used during the scrimmage and there was no stadium announcer. The three-hour time slot was counted down on a digital clock near one of the giant video screens, which are dark during high school play. As the window for Moorhead and Sartell began to close in the final minutes, players sprinted on and off the field as coaches yelled, “Go! Go! Go!”

On their team Twitter account (@SpudBaseball), the Spuds had been counting down the days until they walked onto the field in downtown Minneapolis.

“Ever since day 100, we’ve been counting it down on Twitter so the boys have been getting excited to be here and now it happened,” Salvevold said. “We’re getting our feet wet and getting ready for the season, I think that’s the most important thing.”

As the clock struck zero, the Spuds and Sabres exchanged handshakes and then posed for a two-team photo as parents and others put their cell-phone cameras to use from the stands.

One of the fans said with a laugh, “You don’t even have to rake the field before you leave!”

A few minutes later, the keys were turned in two buses that were loaded with ballplayers and their gear in the stadium’s airplane-hanger-sized loading dock. Everybody went home happy.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 562
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,489
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn