Huskies manager optimistic despite team's 3-7 start
Duluth Huskies manager Jeff Casper remained optimistic despite his team's 3-7 start. The Huskies had dug a hole for themselves 10 games into their inaugural season in the college summer Northwoods League. Getting off to a fast start and competing...
Duluth Huskies manager Jeff Casper remained optimistic despite his team's 3-7 start.
The Huskies had dug a hole for themselves 10 games into their inaugural season in the college summer Northwoods League. Getting off to a fast start and competing throughout the 64-game, split-season schedule is obligatory for all teams: only the first- and second-half champions in each of the North and South Divisions advance to the playoffs, where they will meet in a best-of-three series for the right to advance to the league finals.
"Obviously it's not the start I wanted, but we're not panicking," Casper said of his club's .333 start. "It's a long season, and we'll be just fine. We can realistically make a run at the playoffs."
The Huskies are getting decent starting pitching, Casper said. And the Huskies should have three new Division I positional players in the lineup when they begin a four-game Wade Stadium homestand at 2 p.m. Sunday against Rochester.
"Right now we're missing a couple extra bats in the middle of the lineup and, frankly, we need to hit the ball better," Casper said earlier this week. "But we're pleased with the starting pitching and the bullpen, even though we'd like our starters to be more efficient by pitching deeper into the sixth and seventh innings."
Casper said the Huskies also have a lot of work to do on the field and off to earn the respect of the fans.
"We need to show fans that we can compete, win and, at the same time, be involved in the community," he said. "It helps the business side of it, and larger crowds gives us a home field advantage."
Wade Stadium, incorrectly said to be a barrier for success for the former Duluth-Superior Dukes, is more than adequate for the Huskies, Casper said.
"It's a historical site, and I like what Bobby's (McCarthy, Huskies' owner) has done by giving it a good facelift," Casper said.
Huskies infielder Garrett Gipe, a University of Southern California freshman, is making the most of his opportunity as a first-year player in the Northwoods League. His .258 batting average before Thursday's game was impressive for a player adjusting to the wood bat in the pitching-strong league.
"I'm having an unbelievable experience so far," said Gipe, who will compete for a starting infield spot with the Trojans next fall. "The competition in the Northwoods is excellent, about equal to Division I, and competing in the league can only help you mature as a player. And other than the start of the season being a little cold for a guy from California, I'm having a blast playing in Duluth."
Gipe is a very positive person who always has a smile on his face. He also signs a lot of autographs, encourages youths and spends time socializing with fans before and after games.
Ray Schow, Huskies' play-by-play announcer on WEBC 560 AM, estimates that he has broadcast between 600 to 700 high school sporting events for WKLK Radio the past eight years. But he'll get a workout and earn his pay while doing all 64 Huskies' home and away games in 68 days this summer. Joe Wicklund adds color commentary for home games, but it's Schow's show on the road.
"It'll be a grind," Schow said of the Huskies' murderous schedule. "I'll have to learn how to take care of myself to be as fresh at game 60 as I was in the first week. For sure, I'll have to learn how to sleep past dawn."
Schow, 39, has taught public school for 17 years, including last year as a 7th-grade science at Cloquet Middle School. But he was laid off last week and doesn't expect to be rehired. He has excellent play-by-play skills, so it's possible that he could gain full-time work in radio.
Longtime Dukes fan Joe Garson, who understands the finer points of baseball as well as anyone in the area, said in order for the Huskies to succeed they need to add more offensive punch in their lineup.
"The hitting is weak," he said. "The defense is OK and the pitching will pick up, but the hitting concerns me."
Between the lines
The Bulldogs' three-time national champion women's hockey team will meet with President Bush at the White House on Tuesday.
- Bulldogs hockey defenseman Tim Hambly is the official scorer for the Duluth Huskies.
- I predict Rick Rickert, who had a good workout with the Timberwolves last Tuesday, will be a mid first-round selection in the June 26 NBA draft at Madison Square Garden in New York. If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd say he'll be picked in the 16-20 range, earning him a three-year guaranteed contract worth at least $2.7 million. Minnesota drafts 26th.
- Frank Huie has resigned as assistant football coach at Denfeld after 23 years. Lori Hamski, Denfeld's varsity soccer and softball coach, has also accepted a teaching and coaching position at Blaine. Denfeld has 16 coaching positions to fill, and East has 10.
- Derek Plante, who has signed with the Mannheim Adler in Germany's top professional league for 2003-04, couldn't be happier for his former Dallas Stars teammate Jamie Langenbrunner, who recently won the Stanley Cup playoffs with New Jersey. "We are just so happy for Jamie and really enjoyed watching him play some great hockey," Plante said.
- Two former St. Scholastica baseball players and former Dukes teammates, outfielder Chris LePine and shortstop Leland Swenson, are starters for their respective teams in the Northern League. LePine is batting .382 for the Kansas City T-Bones, formerly the Dukes, and Swenson is batting .189 for the St. Paul Saints.
Howie Hanson writes a weekly sports column for the Budgeteer News. He may be reached at 726-1610 or by email at Howie@duluth.com .