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Published On: August 11th, 2023

Written by Dain Solberg

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Benson

As postseason play opens, starting shortstop Aidan Byrne will offer a veteran presence to a team which looks to make a run in the 2023 Northwoods League Postseason.

In his second year, Byrne, a second year standout, leads the Stingers, who travel to St. Cloud on Sunday, August 13 to take on the Rox at Joe Faber Field for a best of three series.

By all accounts, Willmar has had a banner year, clinched the first half and led the entire Northwoods League in wins (franchise single season record of 49).

And, Byrne’s leadership has played a role in pushing the team back to the playoffs after a year ago where they fell to the Duluth Huskies in the postseason. He is in his third year in the Northwoods League after spending two years with the Stingers and one year with the Minnesota Mud Puppies. 

“This year has been different just because there are new guys with different talents compared to last year. We have found a way to play to the strengths of this team, as we did with last year’s team, “said Byrne reflecting on the team.

This has been a special year for Byrne, who is joined by five college teammates from Minnesota State-Mankato, including Mitch Gutknecht, Aiden Hansen, Ethan Stade, Ben Irsfeld and Zach Stroh.

Byrne, who is third on the team in hitting at .343 with 28 RBI and 59 hits, has a familiar feel around his college buddies. And it gives him an extra boost as he knows the way they think, feel and play.

“I think it’s always fun to play alongside teammates from school, just the familiarity and especially pitchers, the competitive juices come out a little more, as both players really want to beat each other. That is what makes Minnesota State University so special, ” he said.

As for his own day-to-day approach, one he keeps it straightforward and simple 

“I really try to stay up the middle and hit the ball hard”, said Byrne 

As a seasoned veteran in the Northwoods League, he is used to the grind of a summer ball schedule. Byrne credits much of his success to his fellow Stingers teammates and manager Freddy Smith, who was named 2023 Manager of the Year for the Northwoods League.

“I think getting used to the mental grind of summer ball is where I have improved. Freddy and the coaching staff have been with me and guided me through the ups and downs of baseball. I think just the confidence and experience I have gained from playing so many games the past couple summers has helped my game immensely, ” he said 

In his second year playing for Smith, Byrne values his mentorship. He has helped him improve day-to-day.

“Freddy has been awesome. His knowledge of the game is fun to learn from and take with me wherever I play. He works his butt off to help us be the best we can be and I’m grateful to have him as our manager, “said Byrne 

Byrne will be going into his senior year at Minnesota State-Mankato (has one year of Covid eligibility). Last season, the team made the NCAA Super-regional and won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).

Clearly his experience in the Northwoods League will provide major dividends as he returns and hopes to lead MSU even further next year.

“I look forward to building off of what our team did last year. We aren’t satisfied with how last year ended so I’m excited to start the fall off strong and bring a good energy into the season, ” said Byrne.

For more coverage of the Stingers, visit the West Central Tribune online at

The 2023 season is presented by J.D. Kreps Financial Group, empowering investors with powerful financial advice.

The Willmar Stingers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. Now in its 30th season, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 24 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, over 325 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time All-Star and 2016 Roberto Clemente Award winner Curtis Granderson, three-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series Champion Max Scherzer (NYM), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and World Series Champion Chris Sale (BOS). As well as 2019 Rookie of the Year and 2019/2021 Home Run Derby Champion Pete Alonso (NYM) and 2021 All-Star, MLB Gold Glove winner and 2019 Second Team All-MLB shortstop Marcus Semien (TEX). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. League games are viewable live at and on ESPN+. For more information, visit or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Stingers as your favorite team.