John's Journal
Caleb Thielbar: From Randolph To The Major Leagues 1/3/2014
The first time I interviewed Caleb Thielbar was nearly 10 years ago, during the spring of 2004. He was a junior at Randolph High School and part of a Rockets baseball team that was attempting to reach the state tournament for the first time in school history.

Here’s an excerpt from my story that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune …

--The Rockets have been playing together since they were little kids running around on the picturesque ball diamond on the west edge of town, and they consider that their strength. “We've been playing together for so long, since at least third grade," said junior Caleb Thielbar, who is 6-1 on the mound and hitting .483.

Caleb not only has a copy of the story, he told me Friday night in the Randolph gym, he has the actual printing-press plate of that page from the sports section. Hearing that is an honor for any reporter, but the hometown honors all went to Thielbar on Friday, which was proclaimed “Caleb Thielbar Night” as the Randolph girls and boys basketball teams played host to Maple River in a Gopher Conference doubleheader.

Caleb had autographed baseballs, hats, a jersey and other items, and he shook the hand of every raffle winner who took home a prize. Randolph and Twins uniforms, along with several photos of Caleb, were framed, unveiled to the crowd and will be displayed in the school.

Think about that 2004 baseball season and fast-forward to the 2013 baseball season, when Thielbar made his major league debut with the Twins. The lefthander had a 3-2 record with an outstanding 1.76 earned-run average in 49 appearances, all in relief. He was named the Twins’ rookie of the year.

He played college baseball at South Dakota State and was selected by Milwaukee in the 18th round of the 2009 amateur draft. He was released by the Brewers in late 2010 and was with the St. Paul Saints in 2011 before signing with the Twins in August that year.

It’s pretty much a dream come true – based on hard work and great support -- and Caleb said as much when we chatted after the formal ceremony between games.

“I guess when you grow up in a town like this, you have to be accountable for yourself,” he said. “If you’re not a good kid, people know about it within the next day. I don’t think it’s that hard to carry that over later in life. There are people who get caught up in different things and change a little bit; I’m trying my best not to do that.”

Thielbar made his first two major league appearances in Atlanta last season, and Randolph superintendent Mike Kelley told the crowd Friday that the games were on TV in the school commons. “I had a tear in my eye,” Kelley said. “For all the students sitting here, the real hope for us as educators is that they have the confidence to chase their hopes and dreams.”

Caleb wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. “At that point I wanted to go to college, I wanted to play ball, I wanted to find a college that had the major I wanted (wildlife and fisheries management),” he told me as we talked in the school kitchen. “I just kind of stumbled into South Dakota State and it ended up working out. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

He was an all-state baseball player in high school (with a 9-0 record and 0.69 ERA as a senior) and honorable mention all-state in basketball. He was a four-year basketball letterwinner, averaging 23 points per game. He has spent time working out in the Randolph High School weight room with the local kids. But he recently bought a house in Brookings, S.D., and now calls that his home base.

“I like pheasant hunting a lot so South Dakota is a perfect fit,” he said. In addition, he can throw with catchers from South Dakota State during the winter.

When Caleb spoke to the big crowd in the gym, he began by thanking all his coaches, starting with his father. He told the kids to pursue their dreams.

“You need to believe in yourself and have a good supporting cast,” he said. When we talked privately, he told me, “I had a good group of coaches around me who taught me to work hard and go after whatever you want to be. It doesn’t have to be baseball. You’ve got to have something that you want to strive for, and whatever that is, just work hard.”

Not long ago Thielbar was just another journeyman ballplayer, hoping for a chance to prove himself. He’s taking nothing for granted as a new season nears. He said the only difference now is what he called “the wondering.”

“The wondering whether you can play there,” he said of the major leagues. “I feel like I proved myself, so it’s just a matter of being able to keep doing that. They say the toughest thing is staying there, not getting there. I just want to prove that I can belong.”

He’ll always belong to the folks in Randoolph.


*Schools/teams John has visited: 254
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,477
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Farewell To Hockey At The State Fair Coliseum12/23/2013
By Dave Wright
Special Contributor

The news wasn't unexpected. The amazing thing was the place lasted as long as it did. It has been announced that Warner Coliseum on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds will no longer have ice after this season. The final game will be on February 29 when the Section 4AA final is played.

I worked the first game in the place -- a college game between St. Thomas and Hamline in 1975. Two years later, the St. Paul City Conference began moving games away from the St. Paul Auditorium. Soon after, the North Suburban began to move in with a regular slate. In its heyday, there were prep and college games three to five nights a week. Dick Stanford, who had already been doing the state tournament, was hired as the main public address voice for the first several years of the place.

When Dick was named to handle the duties of the North Stars, he pulled back severely and only worked a few games a year after that. I filled in for Dick and eventually got the main job when he decided it was too much to be at both venues.

Section 2 was the first to see the wisdom of playing sectional games there. At the time, the section consisted of North Suburban Conference teams in the south with the St. Cloud and Duluth schools in the north. There was a rotation set up. One year, the Coliseum would host the section semifinals and the finals would head to Duluth for a Saturday afternoon finale. The next year, the venues would be reserved.

Thus it was that Cloquet was playing St. Cloud Apollo in a semi when Corey Millen, perhaps the best-known player in the state, went into a corner and got crushed from behind. He left the ice with a broken ankle. To some, it looked like Cloquet's state tournament dreams went with him. Instead, the Lumberjacks broke away from a 3-all tie and scored eight straight goals. Coon Rapids won the other game and went to Duluth thinking they were headed to a state tournament. If they had been at Coliseum, that might have happened. But this was the Duluth Arena and the home-backed Lumberjacks ran them off the ice.

The next year, however, it was Cloquet's hearts that were broken. Columbia Heights, with a goalie by the magical name of Reggie Miracle, had won its way into the final. The Fire Marshall was told to go fishing as bleachers were installed within 10 feet of the penalty box. The final number was never officially announced but suffice it to say it was way more than capacity. You could hardly hear yourself at ice level. The Hylanders, who had never gone to a state tournament, won an earsplitting double OT game and the Lumberjacks, who probably had a better team than the one that had gone the year before, were left to wonder what happened.

The mind wanders. There was the Section 4 final between South St. Paul and Cretin-Derham Hall. The Raiders were newbies at this, having survived a double OT semifinal against Henry Sibley. Their goalie -- Finbar Murphy -- gave the heavily favored Packers fits all night but finally surrendered a goal to break a tie with 20 seconds left. The happy SSP fans littered the ice and then headed back to town to start celebrating.

It was nearly 10 minutes before the ice was ready. CDH coach Jim O'Neill looked at the matchup and called a timeout. The puck went down and I looked up and saw Chris Weinke suddenly break free for the net. He fired into the far corner of the goal and the game was headed into OT. It didn't last long and before South St. Paul knew what had happened, their season was over.

A year later, the Packers were back and feeling very good about themselves. Their opponent was another upstart who had never gotten that far before, Simley. The Spartans were understandably nervous and fell way behind early. It was 9-2 going into the third period when Simley suddenly started scoring goals. In a matter of a few minutes, a running-time game had turned into a 9-8 game. Russ Welch, the South St. Paul coach, looked like he had swallowed a mouse. SSP finally scored into an empty net and ended up winning the section final by the unlikely score of 11-8.

When full, it was hard to hear the buzzer at the zamboni end of the ice. One night, Edina came over to face Hill-Murray. In both the JV and varsity games, the team behind scored a tying goal with 0:00 on the clock. In both cases, the buzzer didn't go off. It was no malfunction. There is a split second between a clock hitting zero and the buzzer going off. It had happened twice in one night. The timer was a rookie working his first night in the place. It took a long time to explain that this wasn't his fault.

That experience did HM coach Jeff Whisler well later that year when, in the section semifinal, Park did the exact same thing to tie a game 7-7. Whisler just stared at Greg Shepherd -- the same referee who had worked the Edina game earlier this year in disbelief. Shepherd looked at the table in equal disbelief. The poor timer could only shrug his shoulders and sigh.

There was nothing to do but start playing overtime. After 14 goals in 45 minutes, there was none for 30 until the Pioneers finally scored.

When the girls state high school tournament got too big for Aldrich Arena, it came to the Coliseum for a few years. The 1998 tournament stands out in memory. Few of us had ever seen anything quite like Eagan's Natalie Darwitz dashing to and fro out of the building's tight corners. Darwitz, however, didn't get to the televised title game. (Eagan had to settle for the consolation crown.) Apple Valley, which had won the first girls title three years earlier, battled Hibbing/Chisholm/Nashwauk-Keewatin for 45 scoreless minutes. The Eagles scored in overtime for the only 1-0 final in girls hockey history.

Stuff just happened there. There was the night when Johnson's Herb Harvey got mad when he was called for a penalty and heaved his stick from the blue line over the glass and into the seats. The stick ricocheted and hit a guy standing behind the glass. He was unhurt but a little startled.

Two years ago, Blaine came into a section final there feeling good. Their opponent -- Maple Grove -- had never gone to a state tournament and the Bengals had won the previous five section titles at the Coliseum. But Blaine's best player got a five-minute major and a misconduct in the first 15 seconds of play. By the time he got out of the box, it was already 6-0 and the game was a wreck. Blaine could do no right and Maple Grove could do no wrong. It ended up 15-1 and it couldn't end fast enough.

We could go on but you get the idea. The place will always be stuck in a lot of folks' memory banks. One of them came up to me in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. He said, "Excuse me, but aren't you the guy who does the p.a. at the Coliseum? You did my section final game."

I asked where he played.


"Harding? Let me think. Oh, yes. They was a section final in the mid 80s when they played South St. Paul. They lost 2-1 but I remember a Harding kid had a breakaway near the end of the game but didn't score."

The guy looked up with a smile. "That was me," he said.

"Goalie made a great save on you," I countered.

At least I hope he did.
Congrats To White Bear Lake's Tanner Hinck, Old Dutch Athlete Of The Week12/19/2013
Tanner Hinck, a senior captain on the boys basketball team at White Bear Lake, played a crucial role in two overtime games. In a 69-68 victory over Forest Lake he made seven three-point shots, finished with 35 points and got the assist on the clinching basket in overtime.

In an 88-82 loss to Roseville (which was ranked eighth in Class 4A), Tanner made five three-pointers, scored 29 points and had eight rebounds.

Tanner has scored at least 20 points in four of the Bears’ six games this season and is shooting 47 percent from three-point range.

He volunteers with White Bear Lake youth basketball teams, is a member of the National Honor Society and has a grade-point average of 3.9.

Congratulations to White Bear Lake’s Tanner Hinck for being this week's Old Dutch High School Athlete of the Week!
An Arm Injury, A Growth Spurt, And Everything Changed12/18/2013
After Tuesday night's basketball game at Park High School, East Ridge center Ryan Keenan exited the locker room wearing a baseball cap. To be precise, a Milwaukee Brewers cap. That seemed fitting because he's a baseball player who became a Division I basketball player. And it happened very suddenly

Keenan is a 6-foot-11 senior who has signed with Pepperdine. The university is in Malibu, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. So college basketball season will clearly mark a big change from Minnesota winters. But just the fact that Keenan will play major-college basketball at all seemed pretty far-fetched not too long ago.

"If you had told me I was going D1 at the beginning of the summer, I would have looked at you with crazy eyes," he said after East Ridge's 75-29 Suburban East Conference victory at Park. "It's been a fun ride."

Keenan comes from an athletic family. His father Dean is the boys basketball coach at St. Paul Harding and his grandfather Jerry Keenan is the longtime athletic director at Harding. But baseball had always seemed to be Ryan's sport. He was a pitcher with potential, but everything changed when two things happened: 1) He suffered an arm injury; 2) He grew amazingly tall.

"In ninth grade he was probably 5-11, and in 10th grade he was like 6-2," Dean Keenan said. "And then boom."

Ryan was listed at 6-10 last season, when he came off the bench behind Conrad Sexe, who is now a freshman at St. John's University. Keenan had never played AAU basketball until last summer, when Mitch Ohnstad -- Minnesota's Mr. Basketball in 1996 at Faribault and a former University of Minnesota player -- began working with him.

Keenan was playing with Ohnstad's summer team at a tournament in Milwaukee when Pepperdine assistant coach Bryant Moore began watching him. The school contacted the family and Dean, wife Heather and Ryan visited Pepperdine. Head coach Marty Wilson offered a scholarship while they were on campus and told them they could take their time in thinking about it. No time was needed.

"There was absolutely no question," Ryan said. "I looked at it between the University of South Dakota and Pepperdine. I knew what I wanted before I went to Pepperdine and it just blew me away. A great degree, that's what I wanted. It's all about the future. And compatibility with the coaches and the kids. They recruit absolutely high-character kids and I couldn't ask for anything better than those guys."

In an odd twist, Ryan's mother had dreamed of attending Pepperdine when she was a student at St. Paul Como Park.

"We've always joked about it," Dean said. "My father-in-law said to her back then, 'I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for you to lay around on the beach.' She called me this summer from Milwaukee and said, 'You'll never guess who's watching him.' "

Ryan is a wonderful example of what can happen to athletes who don't appear to be ultra-talented at an early age. As a young player he was on B- and C-level basketball teams; he had never played with most of his current teammates prior to high school.

"He had great size as a ninth-grader and he hadn't quite grown into his body yet," said East Ridge basketball coach Paul Virgin. "We'll always take a chance on kids like that, because he had a lot of time. All the way up he was always a C player but he kept working. He's a great kid and he'll do anything you ask. I have him in my AP calculus class so he's very bright. He's doing all the right things.

"It's a great story for us and it's great for me as a coach. Ryan works our camps, and I can say, 'Hey, if you're a C player right now in sixth grade or seventh grade, here you go.' "


*Schools/teams John has visited: 252
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 6,427
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Congrats To Eastview Girls Basketball, Old Dutch Team Of The Week12/17/2013
The Eastview Lightning are expected to move into the No. 1 spot in the Class 4A rankings this week after improving to 5-0 with a 56-64 win at top-ranked Hopkins. It was Hopkins' first home-court loss in almost four years.

Eastview also has defeated Chaska (ranked fifth in 4A), Monticello (ranked seventh in 3A), St. Paul Central and Park of Cottage Grove. The five teams that Eastview has defeated have a combined record of 23-1 in their other games.

Congratulations to Eastview Girls Basketball Team for being this week's Old Dutch High School Team of the Week!