The Campaign to Make Webster Famous

–by Jeff Barthel, MBA freelance writer

Fifty-one league losses in a row – that’s what the Webster Sox endured until an umpire’s “Ball Four!” call sealed a 5-4 victory over the New Prague Orioles on July 14.   

“[New Prague] walked off as soon as it happened,” said Webster assistant manager Jeremy Wieland, “and we celebrated like we just won the World Series.”

“We probably overdid it a bit,” he recollected. “But after 51 in a row, to be honest, I didn’t care.”

Yes, this crazy celebration – which included a helmet toss by Webster’s Jake McDonald as he crossed home plate to score the game-winning run – came on the least climactic walk-off possible, the walk-off walk. But don’t tell that to the Sox, whose Dakota-Rice-Scott (DRS) record of 51 straight league losses had mercifully come to an end.

Wieland started the streak buster on the mound against the Orioles and also started for Webster in the team’s previous DRS victory – a 1-0 defeat of Union Hill on July 9, 2014 – a game in which Wieland tossed a three-hit shutout. The 20-year town ball veteran didn’t go the distance against the Orioles, instead giving way to reliever Jack Meyer, a New Prague native.

“Jack pitched the best I’ve ever seen him pitch,” said Weiland. “He came in the sixth inning, with runners on first and third with one out,” said Weiland. “He was able to get a strikeout and a pick-off at first [base], which was a huge pick-up for us.”

Wieland said Meyer’s performance – especially the pick-off, which ended the inning – lit a spark under his Sox teammates. As Meyer settled in on the hill, however, the Sox offense went equally dormant – until it mattered most. That’s when Jason Nelson led off the ninth with a single, followed by three straight walks that forced in the game-winner.

Wieland, a third-year assistant manager/pitcher/infielder, managed the Webster victory that night, while regular manager Mike Sandmann was on the other end of some exciting text messages. Sandmann, who Wieland said “is Webster baseball,” was playing in a 35-and-over league game that night when he received the updates.

“I had a feeling about it coming to an end soon over the last weekend because we had been playing some teams we had felt we had a crack at,” said Sandmann. In previous weeks Webster had its chances, citing a 2-0 loss to Faribault and 4-0 setback to the Shakopee Coyotes.

“Beating New Prague kind of did surprise me, though, because they have been playing really well. So I was pretty happy,” said Sandmann. “I told the guys on my over-35 team and they were happy about it, too.”

A lifetime commitment 

Sandmann, who resides a few short minutes from Webster’s home ballpark – known as “The Coliseum” – still suits up for the Sox. But at over 50 years of age, the Webster native mostly sticks to managing the squad.

“I’ve been here all my life,” said Sandmann, when asked of his involvement with Webster baseball. “I started playing when I was eight [years old], on an old field that was always called the ‘Cow Pasture,’” which recalls a time cows escaped and ran around the former Webster ball field.

“I signed with the amateur team when I was 18, so I’ve been with the team for 33 years now. At first we didn’t have a nickname, then [over time] it was called the White Sox, and then it kind of evolved into the Webster Sox.”

As with many amateur baseball teams, Sandmann fills the role of the team’s manager, groundskeeper, concessions operator, etc. He’s the one who grooms the field, stocks the concession stand and does all the management work – all while holding a full-time job during the day. He does it out of love for the game and for his home community of Webster.

“For me, getting the field ready before games is my therapy; it’s what I like to do,” said Sandman, who said he didn’t miss the second game of his 27-year DRS career until about six years ago, when his parents had their 50th wedding anniversary. “Since then, I’ve missed about five or six.”

Sandmann said the team does get its share of fans at “The Coliseum,” noting they have drawn as many as 100 fans.

Wieland and Sandmann know the win was just one win. In fact, as tough as the streak had been for the team this summer, Sandmann said last year was tougher. The streak, which began in July of 2014, ran the gamut last season. Last season was truly a long summer for him, Wieland said, and the team as a whole. But this season’s been a little different.

The Sox went 0-25 overall last season, which was preceded by eight straight losses to end the 2014 campaign. The 33-game overall losing streak ended on Opening Day this season, however, with a 13-12 non-league triumph over the Montrose-Waverly Stingers. Until the New Prague victory three weeks ago, Webster suffered another 23 straight in the ‘L’ column.

The team’s social media account has embraced their run of infamy, making the Twitter hash-tag “#MakeWebsterFamous” perhaps the most popular – if not common – of the 2016 MBA season. The streak was enough to draw the attention of noted town-ball enthusiast Patrick Reusse, who wrote an article about the Sox for the Star Tribune. KSTP-TV also highlighted Webster’s big win on the evening news.

Yet despite the notoriety hope springs eternal, and Sandmann and Wieland both spoke of acquiring, building and growing the team with youth.

“He’s done a great job of keeping it alive,” Wieland said of Sandmann’s leadership with the program. “So now that he’s done that, we’re going to try to get a young base [of talent] and grow the team from that.”

The Sox were unable to follow up the New Prague win with another victory before the season concluded on July 28, which included a 9-4 ‘revenge’ loss against those same Orioles on July 24.

Webster will take a five-game losing streak into the offseason, but that’s a whole lot better than the 55 it nearly was.

As one streak resets, another gathers steam

The opponent Webster beat on Opening Day this season, Montrose-Waverly, is now more than halfway to Webster’s memorable/forgettable number. The Stingers ended their regular-season campaign with 27 consecutive North Star League losses.

After the July 22nd 10-run loss to Maple Plain ensured that the regular-season league losing streak would carry into 2017, Stingers manager Robb Moynagh spoke about the loss the following day.

““It was a sloppy game,” Moynagh said. “Give Maple Plain credit: they hit the ball hard, they’re a good hitting team. But it was not pretty.”

Moynagh said the team has kept hope afloat by means of enjoying the game and trying not to let the losing ruin that. Moreover, he said part of his enjoyment and what keeps him going is working on the field with his family – particularly his son, Kirby.

Moynagh remarked that the Stingers are simply hoping to acquire and build. It’s been a challenge, as there are other established and well-talented teams in the area (i.e. Howard Lake, Buffalo, Dassel-Cokato). But the Moynaghs are trying.

“We’re hoping to get three or four young guys [to join the team] and have at least a couple of them stick around,” the 47-year-old Moynagh said. “We need hitting. It’s no secret you can’t hit when your team [batting] average in league play is .175.”

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