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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Community Connections: Bakken excited to get back to coaching

  • Mitch Bakken was a member of the Crookston Pirate baseball team that won the 1995 state championship. He also played a number of years for the Crookston Reds amateur baseball team. He is the former sports information director and head softball coach at University of Minnesota Crookston. He is now in his first season as head baseball coach for the Pirates.
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  • Mitch Bakken was a member of the Crookston Pirate baseball team that won the 1995 state championship. He also played a number of years for the Crookston Reds amateur baseball team. He is the former sports information director and head softball coach at University of Minnesota Crookston. He is now in his first season as head baseball coach for the Pirates.
    Derek Martin: What is the first thing you think of when you see this photo?
    Mitch Bakken: I wish I could throw the ball as hard as I looked like I was throwing it, and also that I never had very pretty form.
    DM: Do you recall this and what are your thoughts on it today? What was going through your mind at the time?
    MB: I’m guessing I was thinking, “Don’t leave the change-up up in the zone or I’m going to be getting a new baseball when this one lands in the tennis courts behind the left field fence.”
    DM: Can you tell me about your baseball career journey, your experiences and highlights of your career?
    MB: I started playing baseball when I was little. It seemed that all the neighborhood kids did was play in the back yards or down at Washington School (Washington Field is no longer there which is sad). Growing up, I was fortunate to play with some outstanding baseball players. I am not going to name them because I won’t remember them all but we had a lot of success. We went to State in Babe Ruth and then went on to win the 1995 State A Championship. I went on to Bemidji State and basically played for a semester. Between the 2-3 hour practices six days a week and classes, I struggled and decided I couldn’t do both. The 1996-97 BSU baseball team won the conference so it was hard to see that and know that I gave up on a dream to play college baseball. I transferred to UND and was an intern in the Sports Information Department and helped with the UND Baseball team. After UND, I was researching some baseball overseas and was invited to go to Switzerland to coach and play. As I was looking into this, a student loan bill showed up, I asked to defer it so I could go but I took a semester off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and that counted as my deferment so I ended up having to pass on that as I couldn’t pay my school loans while making very little to chase a dream. I started playing for the Crookston Reds out of high school. When I was done with college I moved to Fargo and continued to play for the Reds in the summer and would drive back and forth to play. I then took a job at the University of Minnesota Crookston so I was back in the area to continue playing and got my first real experience coaching. I became the Head Women’s Softball Coach and was in that position for eight years. I continued to play amateur baseball for the Crookston Reds for 15 years. The teams I played for made it to state two times and it was a great experience. Coaching Golden Eagle Softball made me feel like I was still part of the game even after I retired from the Reds. I took a new job at Tri-Valley Opportunity Council in Crookston and my coaching career was over. I have always been competitive and I realized that I needed some kind of sport or competition in my life at all times. Tri-Valley was kind enough to allow me to take over the Crookston Pirate Baseball team for Ted Hasz. I’m excited to be back on the bench and hopefully sharing some of what I know, experiences I’ve had, and mistakes I’ve made on the journey with others who love the game of baseball.
    Page 2 of 3 - DM: You were a member of Pirate 1995 state championship baseball team. What was that run like? Did you know going into the season you had a shot at state or was a Cinderella run? What was the team atmosphere like?
    MB: I was a junior that year. I believe I pitched in a few games but the talent in the senior class was easily the best I have seen. I think we all knew we had a shot to go a long way we just had to stay focused. I believe our main competition was Red Lake Falls and they got knocked out early I think. I believe we were listening to the game on the school bus on the way back from one of our games and we all looked at each other and realized we had a shot. The team had a lot of personalities. Everyone kind of hung out with their own friends. Some were close and some weren’t but when we got on the field, everyone I think respected everyone else for what they brought to the team and I don’t think we would have won it all without everyone that contributed. It was definitely a weekend I will never forget.
    DM: What was the transition like from being player to a coach? How are they different and how are they similar?
    MB: The biggest difference I noticed is that not everyone eats, breathes, and sleeps baseball and softball. I didn’t know that until I started coaching. It was hard for me to understand. If you aren’t going to show up and work your tail off, why waste your time and mine? It was then I realized I had to turn the intensity down and teach the game and just because someone didn’t dream about baseball (I actually have dreams about making practice plans) doesn’t mean they don’t love the game. I also think that my drive and desire is something that helps players listen and believe in what I am telling them. If I have confidence in what I’m telling them, and have confidence that they can do it, they seem to buy into the system. I also like to jump into the cages, or pitch (I taught myself how to pitch fastpitch to my players) and show players that I can still do it and that I have done it. Sometimes it is hard to just sit on the bench and not be able to grab a bat or go out on the mound to close the game down but as I get older, I realize these younger kids would eat me alive.
    DM: What are you doing today?
    Page 3 of 3 - MB: I live in Fisher, MN. I work at Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Inc. in Crookston. I am married and my wife Kelly works at Renu Dental in Crookston.
    DM: As the new head coach of Pirate baseball what are your short team goals and long term goals?
    MB: My short term goals are getting to know everyone’s name. Get to know them and for them to get to know me so they can know a little about my coaching style. The long term goals would be to build a baseball culture that they can carry over into their other sports, classroom, in the community, etc. We see so many area schools having success and I hope the players I coach in baseball become better, more well-rounded young people that look to learn more in the classroom, study the sports they play, and be active members of the community.
    DM: You've got some top-end talent on the team especially with Aaron Hollcraft. As a fellow pitcher yourself what do you see in Aaron? How good is his stuff? What does he need to improve on?
    MB: Well first off, we need more than one player to get to where we want to be. He is very talented but so are other pitchers on both varsity and JV. We need to develop all the pitchers to be consistent, throw quality pitches, control the game and know game situations as to minimize pitches and the amount of time the defense is on the field.
    DM: What does it mean to coach your high school's baseball team?
    MB: It is very exciting to come back and coach for the Pirates. I was always coaching Golden Eagle Softball in the spring so I became a little disconnected from High School baseball in Crookston. I hope to carry on the hard work and dedication to Crookston Baseball like the coaches did when I was playing. I learned a lot of things from Jerry Vandermay, Jim Simon, Brian Follette, Jim Roaldson, Jim Karn, etc. I hope in the future players can look back and be happy that they were successful on the field but also maybe that I helped them a little bit in life as well.
    DM: Who is your all-time favorite baseball player and why?
    MB: I’m not sure I have a favorite baseball player. I enjoy the game and there have been so many talented players it is hard to make that decision. I think if I had to go with anyone, it would be Kirby Puckett. I loved the way he played the game. He had fun and was always smiling and I think there needs to be more of that in all sports. Not just the multi-million dollar contracts and athletes who won’t sign autographs or do appearances. It seems they have forgotten who pays their salaries. Another player who was an influence on me was left-handed pitcher Dave Dravecky. I have written enough so I won’t bore everyone so you can go to his Wikipedia page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Dravecky.

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