Former Sleepy Eye Indians manager passes away

By CJ Siewert

Former manager of the Sleepy Eye Indians, Ralph Zwaschka, 67, died Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, at his home.

Visitation is Monday, Jan. 25 from 4-8 p.m. at the Sleepy Eye Funeral Home, and the funeral is at St. Paul’s Church in Comfrey on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 11 a.m.

I didn’t know it until the news of Zwaschka’s passing, but Ralph was in my parents’ wedding and was my father’s roommate before the wedding. My father described Ralph as someone who could be a “bullhead” at times, but a great person and someone who had a dedicated passion for the game of baseball. He was the first person to ask my father if he was an umpire when he moved to Sleepy Eye in 1976 and from there the friendship began.

Zwaschka managed the Sleepy Eye Indians from 1983 to 2004 and led the Indians to 11 state tournament appearances (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002), including a second place finish in 1986 and a third place finish in 1995.  

After this past season, the Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch looked back at the 1995 state tournament run, which surprised many as the Indians finished the regular season with a sub-.500 record. Here is Kip Kovar’s story…

Remembering the ’95 Sleepy Eye Indians’ improbable run

By Kip Kovar, Sports Writer
Posted Sep. 4, 2015 at 9:02 AM 

With the Minnesota State Amateur baseball tournament wrapping up this coming weekend in Cold Springs, let’s take a look back at the improbable run to the state tournament by the 1995 Sleepy Eye Indians.

With a sub .500 record of 9-13 and one strike away from elimination against the Sleepy Eye Bobcats, the Indians began their run.

After taking care of the Bobcats, the Indians defeated the Essig Bluejays 6-3 behind the arm of Brad Mathiowetz, who threw nearly 200 pitches as the Indians were off to state.

In the Region 2C championship, it was Dean Brinkman who provided the heroics with a three-run walk off homerun to beat Springfield 10-9. Brinkman had six RBI in the game to lead the Indians.

For a team that wasn’t supposed win the region, the run was just beginning.

In the first game of the 1995 state tournament, the Indians faced off with St. Patrick, a team filled with players from around New Prague.

An early 5-0 lead on the Irish had the Indians feeling good, but St. Patrick rallied back to tie the game at seven.

Brian Sieve’s sac fly to score Brinkman gave the Indians the lead back and they were able to hold on.

In the Indians second game they were facing Forest Lake, and it was the Brian Sieve show. Sieve went 4-for-4 in the game with two homeruns to lead the Indians. Scott Surprenant also provided multiple stellar defensive plays for the Indians.

The Indians kept the run going in their third game against Gaylord, a team that thought the Indians shouldn’t even have gotten this far.

Mathiowetz showed them just how much they belonged there when he homered with two strikes on him in the eighth inning to tie the game. But the Indians weren’t done there. Tom Ness singled in a run and gave the Indians another crazy and wild win to advance.

“This is what you dream about. I didn’t feel good in batting practice but something went right somewhere,” Mathiowetz said in a post game interview. “I got a fastball right in the flats. I thought he had me with the count 0-2.”

Mathiowetz and the Indians kept rolling along in their next game against Bluffton. Brinkman wasted no time in getting on the board as his homerun gave the Indians an early lead. The Indians added three more in the sixth, all with two outs, and held on to advance to the semifinals.

With four teams remaining in the Class C state tournament, who would have thought the Sleepy Eye Indians, of all teams, would be left. A team that finished the regular season under .500 had a chance to go to the championship game.

The magical run came up just short when they ran into eventual champion Sauk Rapids. The Indians were looking good, up 4-0 in the first inning, but an eight-run second inning by Sauk Rapids had the Indians playing catchup the rest of the way. There just wasn’t enough magic left.

There was still a little life left, as the Indians had one more chance against Glyndon to get back to the title game. With an 8-5 lead in the eighth inning, the Indians had their eyes on a rematch with Sauk Rapids, but a four-run bottom of the eighth by Glyndon stole one away from the Indians, who were just four outs away from making it to the state title game.

For a team that finished 9-13 in the regular season and was expected to go nowhere, the Indians got hot on their magical run going 14-4 in their improbable run in the state tournament.

“This is the most fun I ever had playing baseball,” Mathiowetz said during the Indians run.

“Geez, almighty,” Indians manager Ralph Zwaschka said about the team’s run. “Can you believe this? Everyone took their turn leading the way.”

All quotes and game information taken from previous editions of the Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch.

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