CLASS C ROUNDUP FRIDAY AT LITCHFIELD: Family ties bind Bluffton to Minnesota baseball history

By Ryan Simonson

Family legacies are a tradition as essential to Minnesota townball as cold beers and concession shack burgers. Travel to any corner of the State of Baseball and you’ll encounter the names of multi-generational baseball families. Schleper. Dolan. Richter. Kingery. Poppitz. Vosejpka. Odegaard. Kingery. Helget. Marquardt … the list goes on. Active ballplayers in communities all across the state can trace their baseball roots back to their grandfathers (and often beyond). Today they climb the steps of the same dugout to compete on the same field where they chased foul balls for quarters or scrambled to return bats to the bench as children. 

Take a look at the Bluffton Braves’ roster and a handful of surnames will stand out. Most common among them: Geiser and Dykhoff. In fact, you’d find Bluffton rosters littered with these two names going back at least three generations. Managed by longtime Bluffton Brave Terry Geiser, their roster also features his sons Dustin and Cody, along with their nephew Gabe.

The Dykhoffs are another third-generation Bluffton family and the driving force behind Bluffton’s string of six consecutive trips to the state tournament, making the Elite 8 in 2020. Brothers Justin, Josh, and Jake Dykhoff, along with their uncle Kyle, have all been stalwarts in the Braves’ lineup during their recent success, adding a chapter to a storied family legacy. Jake Dykhoff graduated from the University of Minnesota Crookston this spring as the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts. He also holds Crookston records for season and single-game strikeouts. His younger brother Jake just completed a stellar freshman campaign at Crookston, posting huge numbers as a two-way player.

Adding to the familial mix in Bluffton are Wyatt and Isaac Hamann, cousins to the Dykhoffs, and Cody and Tyson Barthel, who are themselves cousins. Even draftee from the Midway Snurdbirds, Stetson Burkman, is the nephew of legendary Northwoods pitcher and former New York Mets farmhand Randy Burkman. As in the other corners of Minnesota, the family storylines of the northwest run deep.

Dustin Geiser coaches varsity baseball for Bluffton townball nemesis New York Mills, many of whose players lined the first base fence in Litchfield, chugging cold beers and cheering on their Region 14C comrades after winning their first-round game in dramatic fashion during the first weekend of the tournament. 

Monticello started ace Alex Otto on the mound, coming off a four-hit shutout performance against Raymond in the tournament’s opening week, while Bluffton countered with Jake Dykhoff, back in Bluffton after a stint playing professional ball with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. His brother Justin started behind the plate to complete the battery.

Monticello jumped all over Dykhoff out of the gate, with a double by shortstop Brock Woitalla and a hard-hit single by Jason Axelber, putting the Polecats up 1-0 after a half-inning. But the Braves charged right back. An error and a walk, followed by a Jake Dykhoff single tied the game at one before a sacrifice fly gave Bluffton a 2-1 lead after one inning. 

Bluffton added another run in the second to take a 3-1 lead. 

Through the Polecats’ half of the fifth, Jake Dykhoff had brushed off his rough start and seemed to be cruising, having added 10 strikeouts to his stat line and keeping Monticello off the board. 

Josh Dykhoff added to Bluffton’s lead in the bottom of the fifth, with a nearly-caught, run-scoring smash off the right field wall.

Monticello cut the lead to 4-2 after an errant pickoff throw moved Sam Dokkebakken to third base and a two-out double by Dustin Wilcox drove him in. 

Jake Dykhoff answered with another RBI in the bottom of the sixth to give Bluffton a 5-2 lead. 

Sebeka draftee Kolby Kiser came on in relief for Bluffton in the seventh. Kiser struck out six of the first seven batters he faced, sending the Braves to their half of the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Bluffton scored four additional runs off the Monticello bullpen to open up a commanding 9-2 lead after eight innings. 

Hits by Michael Olson and Keenan Macek in the ninth put Monticello runners on the corners, and a ball to the backstop allowed a third Polecat run to score, but a foul popup to first ended the game with the Bluffton Braves advancing to Labor Day weekend with a 9-3 victory. 

When I spoke on the phone with Dustin Geiser, asking him to untangle the overlapping family histories in Bluffton, he was in the car with his family, on their way to the Minnesota State Fair on the morning before their game. Along for the ride – his seven children, some of whom will undoubtedly take the field for the Bluffton Braves one day. 

Bluffton advances to face the winner of Plato/Luverne Saturday, Sept. 2 at 1:30 p.m. in Dassel.

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