Depth could serve Roughriders wellCory Hansen hasn’t been head coach of the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team’s since 2008. But he is a familiar face to this year’s team.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Cory Hansen hasn’t been head coach of the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team’s since 2008.
But he is a familiar face to this year’s team.
After three seasons coaching the Babe Ruth team and serving as manager of Dickinson’s summer program, Hansen is back in the Roughriders’ head coach chair.
Fittingly, many of the players he is coaching this season are the same ones he mentored during their Babe Ruth years.
“It’s good to see the kids I’ve had when they were 13 and 14, the majority of them have continued to play baseball in the summer,” Hansen said. “That’s going to help out. We know each other and how I like to do things.”
The Roughriders open their season at 5 p.m. today with a doubleheader against the Minot Vistas. It’s the beginning of a long road that continues until the team hosts the Central Plains Regional Tournament for the second consecutive year in mid-August.
With the return of 19-year-olds Sean Kelly, Aaron Berg and Taylor Dutchak — all of whom are pitchers — and the high school players coming off a season in which they won the West Region Tournament and took fifth at the Class A state tournament, Hansen said the goal isn’t to play in the tournament as the host team.
It’s to be representing North Dakota as the state champion.
“Our goal is to earn the right to play at the regionals,” Hansen said. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re going to take baby steps at the beginning. We’re going to have some rough edges. That’s the tough thing about the summer program.”
Kelly returns to his role as the team’s ace this season and will likely be an every-day player elsewhere in the field when he’s not throwing. He said though the team knows winning a state title is a difficult goal to attain, they don’t feel that it’s irrational.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching,” Kelly said. “It’d be nice to earn our way into regionals this year, instead of just be in as the host team. That way, people would be expecting us to play well, not just roll over as the host team.”
Also on the mound will be the trio of James Kary, Mason Schiff and Alex Huschka, who starred for Dickinson during the spring high school season. Korey Kallenbach, Dylan Skabo and Taylor Kraenzel are others who will have opportunities to pitch.
“The last few years, we kind of had to use up our arms a lot,” Berg said. “It kind of drained you after the season got over. It was pretty tiring.”
However, the Roughriders will start the season trying to fill in a couple blanks.
Kelly is out for at least a week with a slight knee injury and speedy outfielder Brett Braunagel recently aggravated an old knee injury. He is on crutches but expects to return this month, Hansen said.
Unfortunately, one of the players not coming back is slugging first baseman Taylor Thiel. He graduated high school in May and is working on his family’s farm this summer. He was named the Midgets’ only all-state selection Tuesday after batting .372 with wood bats. He had team highs of 24 RBIs and eight doubles and also had the game-winning hit in the state consolation championship game.
Because of other summer commitments, Hansen said the Roughriders’ roster could be in flux for some time. He expects some younger players to move back and forth between their team and the Dickinson Volunteers Senior Babe Ruth team.
“It’s not set in stone,” Hansen said. “We’re going to farm out some guys. We’re kind of like in the major leagues. We’re going to bring some guys up and down and see how it works.”
But for the most part, Hansen said the Roughriders are in a much better position than they have been the past two seasons.
Dickinson has had two tough summers after reaching the Central Plains Regional in 2008 and 2009. They had a 14-26 record in 2010 and were 12-25 last year.
The Roughriders believe a deeper, more talented roster could help turn those records around this summer.
“I think we’re deeper this year than we have been in a while,” Kelly said. “We can put guys in and expect them to play at the same level as guys they’re coming in for. That’s nice.”