GRAND RAPIDS — After months of no youth sports anywhere, things finally got going earlier in the week when the Grand Rapids Riverdawgs – the local Senior Babe Ruth League baseball team – played three games and won all of them by the 10-run rule.
The Riverdawgs swept a doubleheader on the road against International Falls on Tuesday and then pounded West Duluth in a grudge game in the home opener on Wednesday at Bob Streetar Field.
Bill Kinnunen, who is head coach of the Grand Rapids High School and American Legion baseball teams, said that since the American Legion summer season has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, state teams are playing Senior Babe Ruth League baseball.
“All the Legion teams in Northern Minnesota are playing Senior Babe Ruth,” Kinnunen said. “It’s good because the kids get to play ball. At least somebody stepped up so the kids can play some baseball this year. They are real excited.
“I think we have about 25 games on the schedule right now; we are adding more every day. We are hoping to have a tournament at the end of the year – some kind of regional and state tournaments. That’s why we went with the Senior Babe Ruth because they said if they have enough games they would try to do that.
“So, we left the first two weeks of August open and if no tournaments come, we’ll schedule more games for those weeks too.”
The Riverdawgs are loaded with talent and will have just one college player this year in pitcher Ty Karnes. The age limit for the league is 19 and under.
“We have a lot of pitching and we have been hitting the ball early,” Kinnunen explained. “The kids were antsy to get after it and we 10-runned the first three teams we played. The big thing is we just want to get better every day and with the talent that we have, if we keep getting better we will do OK in any end-of-the-season tournament.
“We are trying to get ready for next summer and get the young guys ready. We have seven guys that play on the VFW team also and they are getting a lot of baseball in. Hopefully they are getting ready to slip into some starting roles next spring.”
Kinnunen said because there was no high school baseball season, his team is behind where it would normally be had it played 25 or 30 games in the spring, and if it was able to practice every day.
“But it’s coming and the warm weather really helps the arms because we haven’t thrown as much as we would have in a normal year,” the coach explained. “This past week it has been really hot and it doesn’t take long to get loose. We want to build their arms up so they don’t get injured.”
Kinnunen said it is important for young players of the Senior Babe Ruth age to get outside and get involved in baseball.
“They are able to get outside, be with their friends, play in the sun and exercise compared to sitting quarantined away from everybody missing out on all the social activities,” said Kinnunen. “I think it is huge mentally for these adolescents that are playing baseball.”
Grand Rapids will be busy with six games next week. It will be at Hibbing Monday at 7:30 p.m., and it will have a big rivalry game in Grand Rapids Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Taconite. The Greenway and Rapids VFW teams will play before the Senior Babe Ruth game. It will then play in the Ely Tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
Following are results of the three games played by the Riverdawgs:
The season started off with a big bang for the Riverdawgs as they pounded International Falls 15-0 in five innings.
Ty Karnes pitched the first two innings to pick up the win for the Rapids, allowing just one hit. That was all Falls would get as Alex McBride threw two hitless innings with five strikeouts followed by Gideon Beck, who struck out two in his one inning of work.
Wyatt Holcomb had three hits, scored three runs and drove in another for the Riverdawgs while Beck had two hits with four runs scored and an RBI. Both players stole two bases. Kodi Miller had a triple, scored three runs and drove in one, Kyle Henke had a double and three RBIs while McBride had a double and two RBIs.
GR— 262 14–15 11 1
IF000 00—0 1 4
GR: Ty Karnes (W), Alex McBride (3rd), Gideon Beck (5th); 2B-Alex McBride, Kyle Henke; 3B-Kodi Miller.
In game two, Grand Rapids cleared the bench and put in its young VFW players. Still, the Riverdawgs won handily by a 14-2 score in five innings.
Andy Linder started on the mound for Grand Rapids and picked up the win in allowing both Falls runs – which were unearned. He was followed by Kyle Henke who pitched two innings, and Myles Gunderson pitched a scoreless fifth inning.
Ben Keske was 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for Rapids, Gunderson had a double, two RBIs and two runs scored, Kodi Miller was 2-for-2 with a RBI and three runs scored, Garett Drotts had two hits and David Wohlers added two hits with a run scored.
GR 342 41—14 13 2
IF 110 00—2 3 1
GR: Andy Linder (W), Kyle Henke (3rd), Myles Gunderson (5th); 2B-Ben Keske, Myles Gunderson.
West Duluth 2
On Wednesday, the Riverdawgs ripped West Duluth 12-2 in a six-inning contest. It was a game Grand Rapids wanted to win as the same players on the West Duluth team eliminated Grand Rapids last season to go to the state tournament.
Kodi Miller started on the mound for Rapids and allowed both Duluth runs while striking out six in his two innings of work. Alex McBride pitched the next two innings to pick up the win while Gideon Beck pitched the final two innings and fanned five. Grand Rapids pitchers struck out 13 of the 18 outs recorded in the game.
Miller had a pair of doubles, scored twice and drove in one for the ‘Dawgs, Wyatt Zuehlke ripped a two-run home run and scored two runs.
GR 201 234—12 9 0
WD 020 000—2 4 2
GR: Kodi Miller, Alex McBride (W) (3rd), Gideon Beck (5th); 2B-Kodi Miller 2, Gideon Beck, Kyle Henke, Wyatt Holcomb; 3B-Austin Moen, Myles Gunderson; HR-Wyatt Zuehlke.