EARLIER: Baggs is master booster -- and his teams back it up

Aspiring journalists are taught not to befriend the people we cover, because even in sports, there may come a time when you have to write a hard news story about that person.

John Baggs
St. Scholastica baseball coach John Baggs. 2008 file / News Tribune

Aspiring journalists are taught not to befriend the people we cover, because even in sports, there may come a time when you have to write a hard news story about that person.

Friendships can sway objectivity.

I've always tried to keep a safe distance, but friendships are inevitable, especially in a smaller market where you run into the people you cover all the time, whether at the local grocery store or gas station. You find things you have in common.

With St. Scholastica baseball coach John Baggs, now facing the fight of his life against a rare form of cancer, I've found we have a mutual love of sports and good writing, a fondness for "The Sopranos" and perhaps a disdain for "The Matrix." We both have journalism degrees, and I used to speak at Baggs' feature writing class at St. Scholastica. We've always been Duluth outsiders looking in, curious and constantly learning about how things work in the Air Conditioned City on the big lake.

St. Scholastica opened the season on Sunday at the Metrodome, and I know Baggs sorely missed not being there.


Baggs is the consummate baseball guy and he even named his son, Maddux, after former Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux. With Baggs, the chewing tobacco, bubble gum, sunflower seeds, quick jokes and nicknames -- that all comes with the territory. That's baseball. That's his life.

"Hey, Johnny No, what do you know?" he'd say to me.

Baggs built the Saints program seemingly from scratch into a national power. But as good of a coach as he is, he is equally skilled at public relations. He's a PR machine.

It may be a regular-season game against Presentation, but Baggs can treat it like a Game 7 of the World Series, calling in a report with profuse detail and every Saints statistic imaginable. Win or lose, the Saints could still look good, prompting one local baseball guy to joke that Baggs could put a positive spin on the sinking of the Titanic.

Some may argue Baggs "worked" the media over the years to get his program into the forefront, but anyone in this business will tell you they would rather work with someone who is diligent about what they do and on top of things, rather than the opposite.

I remember being told one time by a Minnesota Duluth backer, "Oh, you guys like them," referring to the local sports media's apparent fondness for Saints baseball. I had only been here all of about a year, but I already was starting to learn people's perceptions of what they felt was newspaper bias, even if it wasn't true (don't even get me started on Duluth East).

"If your season lasts longer than another team, you're going to get more coverage simply based on that fact, and Saints seasons last longer than everybody else's," KBJR sports anchor Tom Hansen said. "The Saints have been very successful, and they've done it with local players. Those are things newspapers and television are interested in."

Baggs is known for catering to the local media, but with Saints baseball, it is an easy sell.


It's no coincidence that the good programs, whether high school, college or professional, are almost always well-organized, cleanly run and PR savvy. They not only produce good athletes, but, more importantly, good citizens. Saints baseball is all of that.

In this business, we cover winners, and John Baggs is a winner.

No amount of cancer will ever change that.

To donate

A fund has been set up to help the Baggs family with rising medical costs. Send checks to Coach Baggs Fund, c/o Tom Simonson, North Shore Bank of Commerce, 131 W. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55802.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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