Going lumber yard

Travis Tooley drove a soft, faux baseball straight off his wood bat into the Dickinson High School gymnasium bleachers, which ricocheted the ball straight to the leg of teammate Kyle Schroeder.

Travis Tooley drove a soft, faux baseball straight off his wood bat into the Dickinson High School gymnasium bleachers, which ricocheted the ball straight to the leg of teammate Kyle Schroeder.

Schroeder just looked at Tooley, shook his head and grimaced.

If this would have happened a year ago and Tooley was practicing with an aluminum bat, Schroeder may have needed an ice pack.

However, balls bounce off wood slower than aluminum.

"They've learned a little bit that the wood bat isn't going to get all the hits that that aluminum bat gets," Dickinson coach Pete Dobitz said.


That reason is why the Midgets feel their chances to make an impact in Class A this season have improved.

"The wood bats are definitely going to help us out. With the aluminum, people can just half-swing at the ball and it'll go to the gap or way into the outfield," Dickinson senior pitcher/infielder Jamie Ollila said. "You have to full swing, just to get the ball way into the outfield with the wood bat."

Ollila, a right-handed starter, is one of the Midgets most affected by the North Dakota High School Activities Association's move away from aluminum and metal bats to wood and wood composite bats.

Because of the change, Dobitz has been incessantly preaching the usefulness of throwing down the middle.

"They've got to buy into the fact that they just have to throw strikes. They've tried to be a little too fine, trying to hit corners, throw fancy pitches and get some strikeouts," Dobitz said. "I've been trying to get it through their minds that the whole idea of a seven-inning game is 21 outs."

Schroeder leads the Midgets' pitching staff, which returns four starters and its closer.

"Our experience is there, we learned a lot from last year," Schroeder said. "We've got to throw strikes. We didn't do that at any time last year."

Dickinson's pitching staff struggled last season as the team finished 16-19 and lost out of the West Region Tournament after two games.


Schroeder (2-3, 4.24 ERA last season), Ollila (0-4, 8.26) and juniors Jackson Wandler (4-0, 4.74) and Grant Kovacs (3-1, 3.41) are currently penciled in as the Midgets' starters. Schroeder and Wandler are left handers.

Tooley, who also plays left field, returns as the Midgets' closing pitcher. He had three saves last season.

Dobitz said junior Tyrel Gion, sophomore Michael Steve and freshmen Stephen Laylock, a transfer from Texas, will all get relief opportunities.

Dobitz believes Dickinson's pitching staff has the opportunity to excel if they learn to trust the infield.

"With wood bats, it's going to come down to your infield," Dobitz said. "If you're infield is kicking the ball around or throwing the ball away, you're going to have a tough year because people are going to bunt."

Some of Dickinson's best hitters patrol the infield.

Junior third basemen Ben Herauf, sophomore shortstop Cole Frenzel and Kovacs, who also plays first base, were Dickinson's top three hitters last season.

Herauf finished with five home runs, 46 RBIs, a .405 batting average and had a .722 slugging percentage. Frenzel had four homers, 31 RBIs, a .380 batting average and led the team with 32 runs scored. Kovacs batted .395 with a team-high 11 doubles.


"We won't obviously hit as many home runs as we did," Schroeder said. "Maybe those little hits that have been going into the outfield and getting outs, now maybe they'll be (dropping) in and getting hits."

Tooley and Schroeder return to left and right field, respectively, while junior Tyler Steffen takes over in center field. Gion, and juniors Jeff Kaiser and Zach Keller will also see time in the outfield.

Schroeder batted .324 and Tooley hit .319 last season. Both were single-base hitters.

Tooley said the team learned to hit with wood bats during the American Legion season at the Terry Jablonsky Tournament.

"We didn't always get the hits," Tooley said. "We hit them right to the guys, but we hit the ball really well."

Junior Dan Berg will shore up the catcher spot until senior Alex Koppinger returns from training violations. Ollila is penciled in at second base but could share time with Gion and junior Andy Tomanek.

"Almost too much talent," Dobitz said with a smile. "There's a lot of guys sitting on the bench that we want to get playing time as much as we can."

Dickinson still don't know when its season will begin since games must be postponed due to constant snow. Its home opener was scheduled for Tuesday against Bismarck St. Mary's, but was postponed to an undetermined date.


However, the Midgets were able to get outside for practice before the snow hit and scrimmaged with wood bats during their 100-inning game fundraiser nearly two weeks ago.

"In our 100-inning game, we had two home runs," Dobitz said. "Both of them would have been gone (out) in the big field. It comes down to getting used to swinging that bat and hitting the sweet spot."

What To Read Next
Get Local