HIBBING — In the words of the legendary late comic Rodney Dangerfield, the 1989 Hibbing High School baseball team didn’t get any respect.
The Bluejackets won the 7AAA crown, then when they went down to the state banquet, the team didn’t get to sit in the main banquet room.
Hibbing was seated in a back room, and to add insult to injury, a representative from No. 1 ranked New Ulm, which was Hibbing’s first-round opponent, said in no uncertain terms that they were looking forward to taking on Cretin-Derham Hall in the finals, all but looking past the Bluejackets.
That had more than a few Hibbing players baffled.
“That was interesting,” said Kevin Kearney.
Kearney, who was on the Bluejacket boys basketball team that competed at state that year, almost didn’t go out for the team.
“I wasn’t a good hitter, and all of those other guys lived and breathed baseball,” Kearney said. “I was riding back from state with Jason (St. John), and we were sitting by Dick Larson. I said I wasn’t going out for baseball, and Dick said, ‘That’s one of the worse things you could do.’
“I did it, and we went on a great run. It was one heck of an unexpected experience.”
Joining Kearney on this team were Bob Nichols, Todd Krollman, Bryan Terzich, Bill Bussey, Tim Kemp, Bill Buchwits, Leigh Lonson, Waylon Vitters, Jason St. John, Dwayne Walters, Shane Determan, Kelly Fairchild, Jim Paulson, David Leathers, Chad Baucom, Jason Rasch, Mike Bielejeski and Ryan Beckers.
These Bluejackets had all of the confidence in the world.
It started early in the spring with a get-together at Al Nyberg Field.
“There was still snow on the field, so we loaded up our snowblowers and a grill, and we blew the snow off of the field,” Bussey said. “We knew it was going to be a special year. We were best friends.”
Best friends was an understatement. It was more like a family.
“What I remember most is how close this team actually was,” said Bryan Terzich. “We were friends, and everybody got along. We were as close of a team as any. What they talk about, I saw it first hand.
“Everybody was about the team, about winning, about putting that out there. That was the end result. We played the best when it mattered most. It was special.”
Hibbing had what it took in the field to be successful.
With Kemp (second base), Terzich (shortstop), Leathers (catcher) and Chad Baucom center field) Hibbing was strong up the middle.
With Bussey at third, Kearney in left and Krollman in right, the Bluejackets had one of the better defenses in the state that season.
“We had enough of the right mixture defensively,” said Hibbing coach Tim Scott. “We were as good as any team that I can remember. We were solid up the middle with Kemp and Terzich. I never saw two kids turn a double play like them.
“Leathers was a hard-working kid. Bill, if he didn’t catch it with his glove, he caught it with his chest. He was a tough kid. We had enough of those types of kids, plus, we had enough pitching.”
St. John was the ace. He was a crafty left-hander, and every time Scott gave him the ball, he knew his team had a chance to win. Nichols was a solid No. 2 starter, and Beckers was the No. 3 starter.
To say the season started out on a positive note wouldn’t be correct.
In game No. 1, Hibbing was no-hit by Grand Rapids, then the Bluejackets lost two more games to start 0-3.
“We got blown out of the water,” Leathers said. “Mr. Scott and Mr. Tintor sat us down, and they laid into us. That was probably the turning point.”
Hibbing went on a tear after that, and didn’t lose until its last game of the regular season against Bemidji.
Once again, it was time for another eye-opening speech.
“We got thumped. We didn’t play well,” Terzich said. “Tim was beside himself, and rightfully so. When you go on a run like that, you think you’re more than you actually are. You have to play the game.
“We weren’t immune to any of that stuff. After that, everything clicked. Thirty-one years later, you look back at it and this is why we were successful. You see the things that led up to that.”
Hibbing was the underdog heading into the section tournament, The Bluejackets beat Duluth Denfeld in the semifinals, then fell behind 4-0 to Grand Rapids in the finals.
Hibbing trailed 7-4 in the seventh, when Leathers roped a bases-clearing triple. He scored on a wild pitch to put the Bluejackets in the lead.
St. John came in and struck out the side in the seventh to give Hibbing the title.
The night of the banquet, Bill Bussey, who was a senior third baseman on the team, will never forget how the team was slighted.
“We were in a back room, so we had to get up so we could see the speakers,” Bussey said. “That wasn’t good. Somebody else from another team asked Tim, ‘Do you guys expect to win?’”
That answer to that was, ‘Yes.’
Getting no respect added fuel to the fire for Hibbing, and the Bluejackets used that to their advantage, beating New Ulm 1-0 in nine innings behind St. John.
Bob Nichols tossed a gem in a 2-0 win over Brainerd in the semifinals.
Chad Baucom, who was the only sophomore starter in that state tournament, was wondering how this Bluejacket team would fare at the tournament.
“Come crunch time in the playoffs, that’s when we battled and played our best,” Baucom said. “We knew we had a great team, but how were we going to stack up against the best teams in the state, New Ulm, Brainerd and Cretin?
“It’s possible that we shouldn’t have been there, but we played like we belonged there.”
In the finals, the Bluejackets would take on Cretin-Derham Hall, falling 4-3 in the title game.
Baucom gave his team the lead with an RBI single in the fifth inning, but one call in the sixth changed the course of that game.
It was the bottom of the sixth with St. John on the mound.
“Jason threw a ball in the dirt, and the batter said it hit him,” Baucom said. “The ump awarded him first base, but there was no definitive proof that the ball hit him.”
After that, Chris Weinke, who was a quarterback at Florida State, came up and delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit.
“That plays through my head to this day,” Baucom said. “That’s something that can’t happen. It was a defining moment of that game, but Weinke proved to be the golden boy in that tourney.”
That state tournament provided a lot of memories for the six seniors on the team.
“Nobody gave us a chance,” Terzich said. “We did all of the things baseball coaches talk about, which leads to success. That’s what we did.”
Even in defeat, Bussey couldn’t have been more pleased with how the season played out.
“I can’t describe it,” Bussey said. “You’re playing with your best friends for a state championship. It was something special.”
Scott said his coaching staff of Rick Tintor, John Potter and Dan Bergan all played a big part in the teams’ success.
“I was lucky to have the staff I did,” Scott said. “It was a good group of people there. Rick knew what I was thinking before I was thinking it. He was the best teacher I ever had. We worked well together. The whole thing worked well together.
“It was a fun ride. You don’t get that every day. I appreciated their hard work, and how much fun they had together.”