When the Blaine Bengals 15AAA baseball team capped off its Gopher State Baseball League season with the league championship in July, it was just the beginning.
Along with the title came a chance to play at Target Field Aug. 12, taking on Cottage Grove out of the Minnesota Baseball League in the Play Ball! MN Championship.
“Playing at Target Field was a night to remember,” coach Mike Hexum said. “The entire experience was enjoyable for the players, coaches, families and fans. At the beginning of the season, we talked about this goal. It was great to see it come to fruition. Most of these boys have played in the Blaine Area Traveling Baseball Association for many years. This was a great way to end their ‘youth’ baseball experience.”
While the Minnesota Twins were on the road, their home stadium retained the big-league feel, as Blaine’s players were treated to a game under the lights, scoreboard rolling and a dream come true atmosphere.
“This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a baseball game,” Blaine’s Ryan Wallin said.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget,” added Isaac Moin.
Some of the differences in the setting – the near-40,000 seats, the bright lights, the skyline – were striking and obvious. Yet it was the little details that helped make the opportunity truly unforgettable.
“It was awesome because we watch some of our idols play there, and we got to play on the same field as some of the best,” Eric Charest said. “The pitching mound was perfect, the nicest I’ve ever played on. I loved every minute of it. It was a great way to cap the season with a great group of guys.”
“It was so cool! I loved using the Twins’ batting cages, warming up in the bullpen and playing under the lights,” Adam Anderson said. “We were in the home dugout so I got to use Max Kepler’s helmet box. It was definitely a fun atmosphere.”
The Bengals also played in both the Minnesota Baseball Tournaments and Gopher State Tournament of Champions state tournaments during the season, finishing in the top eight at the GSTC.
The team’s success wasn’t limited to its play on the diamond, either, as it was also recognized with a Youth 1st Award. The award recognized the team’s players, parents and coaches for positive conduct and good sportsmanship during the Gopher State Tournament of Champions, and will be accepted at a St. Paul Saints game Aug. 25.
“The Youth 1st Award means a lot to us. It is a reflection on our players, coaches and parents,” Hexum said. “We have been practicing good sportsmanship for many years. It is a priority! We work on becoming better baseball players and winning, but winning is not everything. Playing the game right and showing good sportsmanship is key. Even with the success we have had, good sportsmanship goes a long way. This team is about good sportsmanship and we are proud of this accomplishment.”
The night served as a culmination and celebration of years of success for Blaine, filled with a unified mindset that earned them a night on the state’s premier baseball stage.
“This year’s team was made up of players who played on Blaine High School ninth-grade teams and who have also played on three different Blaine traveling teams in the past,” Hexum said. “We came together as a group and learned to work as a team. Everyone played a role. We accomplished many of our goals, had a lot of fun and made great memories. At the beginning of the year we talked about winning the league championship as a goal. I could not be more proud of them and the work they did to reach that goal, along with others during the season.
“The coaching staff really tried to lead the boys while also leaving it up to them. At the beginning of the traveling season we talked to them about the fact that they are now 15 years old and are young men. This was their team, and they needed to work together to achieve their goals. I am impressed at how they worked through some tough times during the season and reached one of the major goals they set at the beginning of the year.”
At the high school level, Blaine has made it to three of the past four state tournaments. With the success at the youth level, it is a tradition its systems’ younger players, including those on the 15-year-old team, are hoping to continue.
“This group of players has had some great success over the years,” Hexum said. “I think their accomplishments demonstrate that if they work hard, they can continue the tradition Blaine is building. They are showing that they belong.”