A Winning Debut: A recap of the 2010 Willmar Stingers
A winning debut: A recap of the 2010 Willmar Stingers
Written by: Levi Weber
Under an overcast sky in early June, the Willmar Stingers embarked upon their inaugural season in front of a fervent crowd, eager to support their new baseball team. Hall of Fame and World Series MVP Paul Molitor threw out the ceremonial first pitch, but not before saluting the crowd and acknowledging the host families of the team. With an emphasis on player development, the team led by manager Matt Hollad’s aggressive and dynamic style quickly made a mark throughout the Northwoods League. Even though the team fell short of the postseason, this intriguing blend of veteran collegiate ball players and dynamic underclassmen excited and inspired a fan base in Willmar and the surrounding area. In 2010, the buzz in and around the Bee Hive at Bill Taunton Stadium was deafening.
Nate Johnson and Sauk Rapids, MN product Anthony Bemboom both contributed behind the plate for the Stingers. The Pepperdine sophomore quickly made waves of his own by hitting the first home run in franchise history. He also exhibited strong intangibles behind the plate and immediately built a rapport with the Stinger pitching staff. Bemboom spent time in July of 2010 with the U.S. team but came back to the Stingers and added a strong bat just in time for the proverbial stretch run.
Eduardo Gonzalez and Jared Norris formed an effective corner infield platoon. Gonzalez led the Stingers in doubles (13) and Norris contributed an impressive .395 OBP. Both were stalwarts in the dugout and well-liked by teammates.
A postseason Northwoods League All-Star, Carlos Leyva electrified Stinger fans all summer long with his exceptional defensive range and thrilling athleticism. The junior infielder will also be remembered for his remarkable bunting ability. No matter what the situation or count, Leyva bunted time and time again with an astounding success rate. Leyva led the Northwoods League with 29 stolen bases and was thrown out by opposing catchers only twice.
Shortstop was a highly contested position for the team in 2010. Carter Bell, Joe Sever, Zack Rowles, and Mikey Reynolds all added impressive depth to the Stingers during the inaugural season. Reynolds was a valuable igniting catalyst for the Stingers during the stretch of the 2nd half of the season.
Mitch Delfino earned rave reviews with his glove from the fans that congregated at the “bee hive.” Delfino, Bryan Willson, and Joe Sever all manned the “hot corner” at various points during the 2010 season.
Willmar native Jordan Smith not only adjusted to the wooden bat during Northwoods League play, he thrived as he dominated opposing pitchers to the tune of a .374 BA. An instant stalwart in the clean-up spot, the Northwoods League all-star also led the Stingers in OBP, slugging percentage, RBIs, triples and home runs. Stinger ownership was extremely intrigued by the prospect of Jordan playing for the Stingers because he was a local product who could excel at a high level for the local nine. Jordan Smith was more than a powerful slugger for the Willmar Stingers in 2010. His exceptional hitting prowess, dazzling defensive play, and small-town appeal made Jordan Smith the center of attention against Northwoods League rivals and delighted Willmar Stinger fans the region over.
Isaac Ballou made a great first impression with an impressive debut against the St. Cloud River Bats on June 3rd with 2 hits and a stolen base. He quickly became a favorite with his exciting athleticism and infectious personality. Ballou joined Jordan Smith and Charley Olson as All-stars for the North in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A fixture in center field, Ballou hit .269 with 39 RBIs and stole 24 bases while teaming up with leadoff hitter Carlos Leyva to form a lethal top of the order combo for the Northwoods League to deal with.
As the lone high school player on the Stingers, Sean Dwyer quickly adjusted to the level of Northwoods League play like a savvy veteran with his natural hitting approach and sweet swing. A 15th round draft pick of the San Diego Padres, Dwyer hit .291 with 3 home runs and 22 RBIs before leaving the Willmar Stingers in early August for college orientation in Florida. Matt Serna stepped in and carried on the high standard of play in LF. The versatile University of Illinois-Chicago product played every position on the diamond for the Stingers and displayed exceptional defense all summer long.
Roy Metter started the opening and closing games for the Willmar Stingers in 2010. During that time and in between, the entire starting pitching staff gelled under the guidance of pitching coach Tyler Shepple. The leader in innings pitched was All-Star Charley Olson with 73. A fiery yet focused competitor, Olson befuddled the Rochester Honker lineup on June 17th. Fans that came into Bill Taunton stadium with game 7 of the NBA Finals on their minds left talking about Olson’s two-hit masterpiece. The Georgia State righty also threw the first complete game in franchise history. Jayson Huett proved to be a valuable resource with his rubber arm and fearlessness on the mound. Against the Alexandria Beetles, Huett showed just how important he was to the staff by pitching in both games of doubleheader while the team was down to only 20 players. Florida Gulf coast flamethrower Jacob Barnes led the team in saves while dazzling fans and thwarting hitters with a fastball that consistently hit 95 mph on the Charter radar gun.