Commissioner Vellek announces his retirement

Posted on Sept. 14, 2015

Article courtesy of John Sherman, Sun Current Sports

After 19 seasons as commissioner of the Riverview Amateur Baseball League, Shawn Vellek has announced his retirement.

Next summer Vellek will still watch Class A baseball, but he’ll do it from the stands, not from the directors’ box. In addition to administering the Riverview League, which consists of eight franchises in the western suburbs, he has directed the State Class A Tournament for almost 20 years.

The state tourney has always been held during the dog days of summer in early to mid-August, and Vellek said he will not miss those hot, humid 13-hour days at the ballpark.

Vellek has been involved in amateur baseball all of his adult life. In addition to serving as Riverview commissioner, he was an umpire for 30 years.

There’s an interesting story about how he first began umpiring.

“I was a student at Huron College in South Dakota,” he said. “I was the sports editor of the college newspaper, and one day I was asked to umpire an intramural slowpitch softball game.”

Little did he know that would lead to his big break.

Huron was set to play Augustana in a Division II baseball game. But unfortunately, there were no umpires on hand. The Huron baseball coach saw the sports editor and asked, “You’ve done some umpiring, haven’t you?”

The next thing Vellek knew, he was behind the plate wearing umpire’s gear. What a way to start.

“I never had any formal training,” said Vellek, who became one of the top men in the profession with Northwest Umpires, Inc.

Vellek moved up in the ranks and eventually worked Division I college baseball, mainly in the Big Ten Conference. He was selected to work in one NCAA Division II World Series, two NCAA Division III World Series and two NAIA World Series.

But it was umpiring town baseball that gave Vellek the key to his future as a commissioner.

“If you can go into Red Wing, or Dundas or Miesville and work a Sunday afternoon game, well that prepares you for life,” said Vellek.

At those venues, the crowds are partisan and the umpire is almost never right.

“No one ever accused me of being a homer,” Vellek said with a sly smile. “The key to umpiring in some of those towns is your ability to communicate when the heat’s on.

“When you umpire, you learn to be a good listener,” Vellek continued. “You have to have a little patience.”

Problems arise during a league season, and also during a state tournament.

Vellek said he is fortunate to have many competent people helping him.

“Our hosts from Bloomington do a great job,” said Vellek. “We could not have a successful tournament without George Walker and the Bloomington Bandits and Ron Nenovich and Jerry Olerud from the Gold American Legion team. The grounds crew in Bloomington does a great job and is there for every game.”

Vellek’s state tournament staff includes trusted associates Mike Castle and Mary Matthys. They take care of all the details at the park, from game management to taking admissions to selling T-shirts and programs.

In addition to Castle and Matthys, Vellek relies heavily on the other three state Class A league directors – Robin Johnson from the Skyline League, Andre Lanoue of the St. Paul City League and John-Eric Urseth from the Park National League in Minneapolis.

“The league directors are part of a group we call the Dirty Dozen,” said Vellek. “We meet several times during the year to make sure everything is in order for the state tournament. The group includes Bill McGuire from Stockmen’s Irish, Kevin McDermott from the St. Paul Capitals, Rob and Denny Schildgen from Lyons Pub, Kevin Hoy from the Minnetonka Millers and Chris Duda from St. Louis Park.

“One of the things I am most proud of is the way the four leagues work together. We have 35-40 teams playing every year.”

Vellek supervises an eight-team Riverview League, and three of those teams qualify for state each year. The Riverview roster includes the Bloomington Bandits, the Edina ESOX, Hit Dawg Academy from Chaska, the Hopkins Berries, the Minnetonka Millers, the New Hope Athletics, the Northwest Orioles from Osseo and the Minnetonka Millers.

Since 1997, Minnetonka has won 12 state Class A championships and St. Louis Park has won two.

“The top two or three teams in each of the Class A leagues can play with anybody,” said Vellek. “They compete against some of the best teams in Class B each year.”

Class B teams are those playing outside of the Twin Cities metro area. There are some famous teams in that group from towns such as Austin, Cold Spring, Dundas, Miesville, Red Wing and Rochester.

Debates on which is better, Class A or Class B, can last all night.

Vellek is proud to have Minnetonka, the state’s premier Class A franchise as part of the league he directed.

“Kevin Hoy’s dedication is the main reason for the Millers’ success,” said Vellek. “Along with that, they have a great facility [Veterans Field] and quality ballplayers. The Millers have been in the state tournament 18 of the last 19 years – and that’s amazing. When they step between the lines, they’re always ready to play.”

As he looks to the future of Class A Amateur baseball, Vellek said he hopes there will be younger administrators emerging, but at the same time, he is leaving no stone unturned in seeking his replacement. One of the people he is recruiting to take over is Larry Gallagher, the Crystal resident, who is still umpiring in his mid-70s.

“Larry knows the game inside and out, and he’s impartial,” said Vellek.

There is no irony in the fact that those were exactly Vellek’s qualifications when he became the Riverview League commissioner.

Contact John Sherman at Follow him on Twitter @MNSunSports.

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