Bright prospects: Amateur baseball returns soon, Cubs move to Gopher League – The Globe

The Worthington Town side were founding members of the First Nite League in 1949 and, with few exceptions, have remained there every summer.

But this season, the Cubs will play baseball in the Gopher League.

“Personally, I like it,” Worthington manager Ryan Swanson said. “Really, the Gopher and First Nite are a great league, but the main difference is that we’ll be playing some of these other teams twice instead of once.

Worthington Cubs catcher Eli Gaul dives with the ball to tag Windom’s Sam Huska to the plate during an amateur baseball game last season. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

“In terms of talent, it’s pretty much the same. The Gopher and First Nite leagues are tough with a lot of good players. But it will be nice to change things up a bit.

Both leagues will have seven teams this summer and both are in Region 13, which will again send three teams to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament.

Opening day is fast approaching, with several clubs set to play on May Day. The Cubs open the season May 8 at the Milroy Irish. Worthington’s home opener is the following Sunday afternoon, May 15, against Ruthton.

The Cubs recently played in the First Nite with teams from Fairmont, Fox Lake, Heron Lake, Windom, Jackson, Lakefield and Mountain Lake.

Tracy left the Gopher League, leaving only six teams: Hadley, Pipestone, Luverne, Ruthton, Adrian and the Milroy Irish. The Cubs therefore move to the venerable Gopher League, which dates back nearly 100 years in southwestern Minnesota.

Thus, there will be a balance with seven teams each in the two leagues. Worthington has flip-flopped between leagues several times in the past, but has mostly played in the First Nite League.

So there will be a little change this summer.

“Our biggest rival now is probably Adrian,” Swanson said. “Just because they’re the closest and they have Worthington guys in their squad. And now we’ll see them twice.

Worthington will play the First Nite League teams once each. The Gopher and First Nite playoffs begin July 20, with Region 13 competition slated to begin July 27.

The 99th Annual Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament will run from August 19 through September 19. 5 at the Dundas, Faribault and Miesville sites.

The Cubs haven’t come close to a .500 record in recent years. They appear to be improved, as several veteran players currently play college ball.

“Every year we seem to get a little bit better,” said seventh-year skipper Swanson, who made his mark in baseball at Worthington High and Minnesota West and is now an accountant for Nobles County. “I think we will be very competitive.”

The Cubs do not charge admission to their field games at Worthington Middle School. Full concessions will once again be available through the volunteer work of the Worthington Area Youth Baseball Association, which funnels profits back into the facility.

And it really showed last year.

“Everybody was like ‘Holy cow, this is the best we’ve ever seen in this area,'” Swanson said, noting that Dan Bruns is an outstanding gardener. “It made us all proud that this was our home park.”

Jason Turner is the president of WAYBA.

While the Cubs won’t have their home opener for several weeks, the May 8 game at the fantastic Irish Yard in Milroy is raising a lot of anticipation for Swanson and his ballplayers.

“It’s almost a field of dreams, you might say,” Swanson said. “It’s a beautiful field in the middle of a cornfield. They take great care of it and it’s just adorable.

Gopher and First Nite schedules were released recently by longtime league secretary Myron Bennett of Hadley. Other openings scheduled for May 1 include Mountain Lake in Lakefield, Jackson in Heron Lake and Hadley in Ruthton.

Games scheduled for May 8 in addition to the Cubs-Irish matchup include Mountain Lake at Fairmont, Windom at Jackson, Ruthton at Adrian, Fox Lake at Hadley and Luverne at Pipestone.

Last year, teams from Luverne, Windom and Milroy qualified for the state tournament.

Worthington has won trips to state tournaments seven times, most recently in 2016 when the Cubs qualified for the first time in 33 years.

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