Eau Claire, Wis.- The weather is a balmy 9 degrees and windy with a wind chill well below zero outside on a mid-January afternoon. Baseball is the last thing on the mind of most people in western Wisconsin. Meanwhile, inside the Momentum Baseball Academy facility batting cage, UW-Milwaukee and Eau Claire Express star Daulton Varsho wears shorts and a tee shirt crushing ball after ball into the batting cage netting. The pitcher is not a Horizon League or Northwoods League collegiate hurler, but someone the batter has faced many many times before. Express manager and uncle Dale Varsho throws from behind an L-screen the same way he has every day the last two summers all over the Midwest. The pair even matched up with the Lake Michigan harbor as the backdrop during the Northwoods League Home Run Derby in Kenosha this past July. The younger of the two Varshos rotates between hitting with a wood bat and an aluminum bat as he prepares for both the upcoming spring college season, as well as, looming professional baseball.
This January workout is just one of many completed over the past five months for the reigning Summer Collegiate All-American as he preps for this junior year of college. Varsho says “since fall ball ended it has been a lot of hitting and now that I am home for winter break I’ve been warming up my arm again after it has been shut down for a month and a half. Now I am back to hitting with both Dale and my dad again.” Baseball runs through the veins of the Varsho family for both Dale and Daulton’s father, Gary. Dale has managed the Express since 2005 and has coached countless players who have gone on to play pro ball including major league stars Jordan Zimmermann and Kole Calhoun. Gary played eight years in Major League Baseball and is currently a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Daulton talks with his dad pretty much every day about baseball and when he needs some more help he will talk to Dale and get his opinion.
In addition to relaxing and enjoying hunting in the woods, the offseason is a good time to reflect on the past and set goals for the next year. The power hitting backstop has several accomplishments to smile about from the past summer including batting .321 with a team leading 15 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He set the new Express franchise single season record in RBI’s, home runs, and walks while being a Mid-Season and Postseason All-Star. The Marshfield native says his favorite memory from the summer was winning against St. Cloud to get to the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series. Even though the players who make up the Express roster come from all over the country, Varsho still stays in close contact with his teammates, especially former shortstop Cody Bohanek (University of Illinois-Chicago). The two stay in touch on a daily basis and look forward to playing against one another this spring in Horizon League action. One goal Daulton has during the college season at Milwaukee is to help the Panthers make it back to the regional round of the NCAA Playoffs for the first time in quite a while.
It is only a matter of time before the weather warms and the Express take the field for the beginning of the 2017 season. It remains to be seen how much, if any time Daulton will spend in an Express uniform during the spring. He will be missed by both the fans and the coaching staff. Dale adds “the team will miss Daulton’s hard work, leadership, and enthusiasm. He always gives 110% and runs out every ball.” Perhaps one day in the not so distant future the Dale and Daulton batting practice duo will be preparing for the opening of a professional baseball season. When and if that time comes Daulton’s wood bat will be well broken in.
The Express begin season number 13 in the Northwoods League on May 30 as they travel to Bismark, N.D. for the inaugural series for the Bismark Larks. They continue to Willmar to take on the Stingers for a two-game set before opening their home schedule at Carson Park on Saturday, June 3 versus the Mankato MoonDogs. First pitch of the home opener will be at 7:05 p.m. and the game will be followed by a fireworks show. Purchase your 5-Game Packs, including a reserved seat and unlimited food and beverage, online by clicking here or by contacting the Express office at 715-839-7788 or 102 E. Grand Ave. in downtown Eau Claire. Single-game tickets go on sale May 1.
The Eau Claire Express is a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year-old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, 160 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS),two-time World Series Champion Ben Zobrist (CHC) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM) and Lucas Duda (NYM). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.eauclaireexpress.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Express as your favorite team.