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Baseball: In a relaxed environment, Pirates looking forward to playing games

Jacob Shames
Crookston baseball coach Mitch Bakken got his team together to play some unofficial games against area competition starting next week.

The sun sits a bit lower in the sky as the Crookston 18U baseball team begins practice Thursday evening. The temperature sits in the mid-70s, the air is crisp and the breeze is just noticeable. It’s what baseball people dreamily refer to as baseball weather.

No one at Jim Karn Field appears too tense. Players crack wise at each other while moving at three-quarters speed. Bats are swung and balls are thrown, but other than that there’s little structure.

That’s just fine with Mitch Bakken.

The Minnesota State High School League’s summer waiver began on June 15, meaning that coaches and athletes could have contact during non-school months. Bakken, the Pirates’ head coach, then put out a message inviting any player who wanted to come out and practice, hoping to go from there.

The first practice took place June 18, and more than nine players showed up. Ditto for the next two. This meant Bakken had enough players to field a team — and maybe play some games.

Bakken emailed every other coach in Crookston’s conference to find out who was likewise interested. In early July, he managed to get a game at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton scheduled for July 28, and a game in Fosston on Aug. 4.

The Pirates have four contests scheduled right now, including a home-and-home with Kittson County Central on July 30 and Aug. 11. Essentially, these are pick-up games — they’re not competing as part of any league or organization.

“It’s more just to get out and have fun,” Bakken said Thursday. “Nobody would wanna play if it was 50 games and I was yelling all the time.”

Rather, this is a chance for Crookston to put closure on a cancelled season, in a relaxed, enjoyable way.

Bakken begins normal practices with a full stretching routine and laps around the field. Now, he leaves it up to the players to get warmed up. Practices are just twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and take place in the evening so that players can work their summer jobs. They don’t last much more than an hour, and their purpose is mostly to ensure everyone is in decent-enough shape to not get injured.

“It’s very light,” Bakken said. “ … I think they’re used to a lot of structure and we don’t have a whole lot of structure. It’s just so they can go out and get reps.”

If a player can’t make it on a certain day, Bakken doesn’t get mad. He just asks that they let him know beforehand.

“I just wanna know that they’re dedicated and committed to coming to play,” he said. “I don’t wanna get to our first game and have eight people show up. That’s really my only criteria.”

Bakken won’t be doing much actual coaching during games, either. He’ll set a lineup to keep things in order, but will make sure everyone hits. He won’t worry about substitutes, and courtesy runners are fair game. He might give signs for bunts, but he won’t call for stolen bases. He will have a pitch count, again to ensure everyone gets in the game and no one gets hurt. Every position except for pitcher and catcher is flexible.

While the Pirates’ “season opener” is just four days away, Bakken is trying to add a couple more games to the schedule. He wants to set up home-and-homes if he can — “that’s the fair way to do it” — which has cost him a couple matchups. He doesn’t mind traveling, as long as it’s relatively close. At one point, Crookston was looking at a game in Jamestown, N.D., but the timing (on a Saturday) and distance (2.5 hours) proved prohibitive.

Either way, when Bakken was asked what he was expecting from these contests, he paused for three seconds before replying with one word.

"Fun."

“If we have nine (players), we’ll go,” he said. “ … We had kids that wanted to play some baseball, and this was an option.”

The Times welcomes your feedback. You can send any comments or questions to our office at (218) 281-2730, Jacob Shames (405) 496-0168 or by email at jshames@crookstontimes.com.

Follow along on Twitter @crookstonsports and @Jacob_Shames for all the latest stories and live game updates.