North Shore musher takes break from college baseball for sled dog race
For St. Cloud State freshman Ero Wallin, competing in the Beargrease “just keeps getting better and better.”
TWO HARBORS — January is typically a busy time for college baseball players.
Classes have resumed and preseason training is in full swing as players in colder climates prepare for their annual spring road trip to balmier temperatures in the southern U.S.
Two Harbors’ Ero Wallin, however, has an added another item to his training schedule: compete in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.
Ero ran the full marathon for the first time in 2021 as a senior at William Kelley High School in Silver Bay, finishing sixth.
He followed up his strong rookie finish with one of the best statistical seasons in Minnesota baseball history. Ero led the state in 10 different categories, including a batting average of .657, 11 home runs and 67 RBIs.
For his efforts, Ero was named the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Class A Player of the Year and the Duluth News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year.
He also played his way onto the St. Cloud State baseball team, but with a catch. Ero and Huskies’ coach Pat Dolan agreed that if he came to SCSU, he could return to race the Beargrease.
Dolan said the arrangement was part of his philosophy that family comes first. He’s always been willing to let players miss practice for siblings playing in the state tournament.
Ero’s situation, though unique, falls in the same category.
“To me, it’s a no-brainer especially with how the last two years have gone with the whole COVID situation,” Dolan said. “I think everybody just needs to be more understanding and more compassionate working with people.”
Ero has been around mushing his entire life. His parents, Ward and Colleen Wallin, own Silver Creek Sled Dogs, and Colleen has run the Beargrease each year it’s been held since 1995.
Ero ran the Beargrease 120 in 2019 and 2020 and moved up to the full, 300-mile race last year.
“After the second 120, I was so pumped and that’s when I knew I was going to do the marathon,” Ero said. “I knew the marathon was going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I get done with that and I was like, ‘This just keeps on getting better and better.”
Ward said his son was initially apprehensive about committing to a long race like the Beargrease, but a run in the CopperDog 150 in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula changed things.
“We asked him if he was interested in the Beargrease, but I think he was nervous,” Ward said. “Then we went over and did the CopperDog and he ran with all the big boys and he finished in the top 10. He was fired up and then he thought ‘OK, I really want to get serious about racing.’”
Another ‘best friend’
Ero has developed a close relationship with his dogs the past few years and said he’s constantly calling his parents for updates on training. What’s more, his best friend Garrett Jordahl of Two Harbors has stepped up and started helping with training runs while he is away at school.
“It’s just become such a big part of my life,” Ero said. “I absolutely love it and I can’t miss it.”The dogs have become a part of Ero’s family, but one in particular has developed a special bond — Packer.
Ero was “scrolling through Facebook” and saw a post of Packer from Alaskan musher Wade Marrs. Ero talked it over with his parents and worked out transportation from Alaska and when they picked Packer — in St. Cloud, no less — Ero was ecstatic.
“We get there and he’s just this beautiful, filled-out, gray wolf-looking dog,” Ero said. “We get him back home, he’s just shy, super shy. He wouldn’t come near me.”Ero set to work spending time with Packer every day, calling his name and doing whatever he could to build a relationship. It wasn’t long before Jordahl had a competitor for the title of “best friend.”
“This is the first dog I ever bought and now he’s my best friend,” Ero said. “I can rely on him for anything. He’s an amazing swing dog, he’s turning into one heck of a leader. I trust him, he trusts me and he has the most energy out of any of the dogs in our kennel. Last year, leaving the last checkpoint of the Beargrease, he’s just bouncing up, pounding in his harness ready to go.”
The only thing Ero — an avid Minnesota Vikings fan — doesn’t like about his new buddy is his name: Packer. Ero said Packer was already over a year old when he arrived, so they chose not to change his name.
Stepping up to the plate
In his first few months at SCSU, Ero has embraced his new team and the opportunity to train and play throughout the year.
“It’s such a blast, you can’t even really compare it to high school because everything is so different,” he said. “The guys are awesome, I just love them. They’re a whole bunch of beauties that love to play baseball.”
The additional time on the field and weight room has had an impact that Dolan hopes will translate to success when Ero gets on the field next spring after his redshirt year.
“We know he has some power and some natural strength, but he’s kind of changed his body around with his work ethic,” Dolan said. “When you’re playing ball three hours a day and then you’re lifting for an hour and 15 minutes after, it’s going to change you a little bit.”
Dolan said he was excited to get Ero into the Huskies’ program and wants players with a wide range of hobbies instead of those singularly interested in baseball — something that impressed the Wallins when they visited the campus.
“Even before he committed there, the coach was telling people, ‘Hey, this guy races his dogs,’” Ward said. “He was pretty fired up about it, they worked it out and the timing is right. He gets full support and, you know, how fitting is it that you’ve got a Husky running huskies.”