'This town needs amateur baseball again:' The Detroit Lakes Baseball Club looks to be a community-first team
Detroit Lakes will have an amateur baseball team again. This time, it's going to look different than the teams of the past starting with a community-first and respectful approach to the game.
DETROIT LAKES – The crack of the bat on a beautiful day in the middle of July is a sensation that screams "Summer." However, it's been missing in Detroit Lakes for some time.
Washington Park is set to host a new amateur baseball team this summer. The Detroit Lakes Baseball Club is hosting five of its 11 regular-season games in what will be a reinvention of amateur baseball in the area.
"We started talking about it last year with the youth programs. This town needs amateur baseball again," player-manager Brandon Johnson said. "We were able to put it together this spring. The biggest thing is we wanted to fix the problem of the past. There were things wrong with amateur baseball before in our community. One of the biggest things was not having guys committed or having a good culture. There weren't good, ethical things happening. As a former Angel, I can attest that we weren't Angels."
The Club comprises many former Detroit Lakes High School players committed to bringing a professional and fun atmosphere to summer baseball. While the ghost of past amateur teams may linger, Johnson's community-first approach is what he hopes will set a new standard for how Detroit Lakes residents perceive summer ball.
"We decided that we can't be the Angels," Johnson said. "We threw around a bunch of ideas. Thanks to the Washington Football Team, we came up with The Club. We are The Detroit Lakes Baseball Club. We want to be about our community. To do that, we didn't want to separate from our community. We made it our mission to use baseball to celebrate and engage our community."
A challenge for many amateur baseball teams is engagement from players and coaches. Johnson made sure The Club is rooted in its expectation of having its players show respect for the game.
"Before we did anything baseball-related, we came together and had a meeting," Johnson said. "Part of it was to generate excitement and show them everything we will do. The other part of it was to lay down our expectations. There will be no drinking or other shenanigans by us at the park before, during or afterward. If you get rid of that, it eliminates a lot of problems."
"Another thing we talked about was when it's game day, you don't show up 10 minutes before first pitch. We will be at the field dressed and ready to go an hour before and ready to do things baseball-related. The great thing is we can set these expectations and build a culture. The guys are coming here to prove they not only understand these expectations but also respect them."
Johnson believes that if people are going to take this new team seriously, it will have to look the part.
"Detroit Lakes is a good, classy place filled with great people," Johnson said. "If we're going to represent these good people, we don't want to be the rag-tag bunch. We don't want to throw together junkie t-shirt jerseys and trucker hats for uniforms. We want to make sure we do look good and play good. It's all about building a culture. We know we're not big leaguers, but we can still be professional."
The Club will play in the Red River Amateur Baseball League. For the inaugural season, the goal is to build an identity on the field of a team that's capable of competing.
"When we're looking at our league, our biggest goal is to stay out of the bottom four teams," Johnson said. "If we finish in the bottom four, we have to play a play-in game for regions. Looking at our league and looking at the talent that we have, our basement should be third in the league. Dilworth and Ada are solid teams. Those are the top two teams. We can be that third team. Our goal in year one is to work our way into a deep regional tournament appearance. I would love nothing more than a state berth. Honestly, that is the goal every year. But here, in year one, we want to finish third in our league to give us a chance."
Many of The Club members have played on the high school diamond together. However, the additional pieces have built a strong chemistry through a few weeks of practice.
"We have a group of guys who graduated last year. There are six of them," Johnson said. "We have guys who graduated a year or two before them. They all have chemistry, and all get along. What surprised me was the random guys. They've been incredible for this group. One of my biggest fears was missing team chemistry, especially with the lack of time spent outdoors. Thankfully, it seems to be organic."
"Casey Ness is our most tenured player, so we named him the team captain. We are all adults, so we can all speak up and be leaders of this team. This mix of guys has made this entire experience so much fun."
For Johnson, June 1 can't get here soon enough. Winning and losing will come secondary to the effort put into changing the culture around amateur baseball in Detroit Lakes. He hopes he plays for a team that people want to see play on a summer night.
"After the last few years people have been through, we want to bring people together to celebrate a baseball team at Washington Park," Johnson said. "There's no more beautiful place to be in the summer. We can use our platform to let our businesses and our community be celebrated. It's come together really well. We have great sponsors and great players. The last three months have been awesome to see it all fall into place."