Wood Ducks replace Pioneers as summer baseball team in Elk River

STORY CREDIT: ELK RIVER STAR NEWS

–by Trevor Hass, Sports Reporter

Elk River Pioneers Baseball, which has been a staple in the area for decades, was unable to field a team this season. Instead, a new team, the Elk River Wood Ducks, will play its home games at Hales Field this summer.

Ken Ott, who has managed the Pioneers for 48 seasons, is disappointed by the news, but he plans on working toward bringing the team back in 2017 instead of dwelling on the current situation.

“We’re not folding, we’re just suspending until next year, mainly because another team is starting up,” Ott said.

Ott has been passionate about baseball since he was a child. His father, George, introduced him to the game, and he fell in love with it at a young age. He played American Legion baseball in Elk River and started as an amateur ballplayer in 1952.

Not being able to manage a team would be difficult for most managers, but it’s especially tough for Ott, who has been involved with baseball every year for decades. Ott and fellow board member Bruce Schmidt still plan to watch some of the Wood Ducks’ games and support the Central Ridge Baseball League, but they know this summer won’t be the same.

However, Ott and Schmidt are optimistic about the future and they want to maintain a good relationship with three three players who left the Pioneers to join the Ducks, as well as all other players. When they see them at games and around town, they plan to support their former players.

Ott hopes young players who are looking for a team will join the Pioneers — who moved from Nowthen to Elk River in 2007 — next year to continue a tradition that has been around for years.

The reality of the situation is that the Pioneers won’t have a team this year, but one silver lining for Ott is that many of the businesses that have supported the club for years are still eager to purchase ads next year if the club returns.

“They told me they’ll support the Pioneers 100 percent if we have a team next year,” Ott said. “I appreciated that, to get that kind of a response.”

Meanwhile, the Wood Ducks have assembled a roster of 18-20 players and are eager to start competing in May. Jim Brown, who will co-manage the team, said the effort to form a new team started about six weeks ago and required a lot of time.

The Wood Ducks have seven scheduled home games and will play road games in some of the nicer parks around Minnesota. Brown said he, Aaron Pipenhagen, Corey Kaminski, the three longest-tenured players, didn’t have a problem with Ott. Rather, they wanted to get out of the overall rigid environment and start fresh with a new team.

“It’s like anything,” Brown said. “There’s just a time when change is needed. We like Ken. I just got finished writing a letter for him to get inducted into the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame.”

One main reason Brown and Co. decided to form a new team is because there was so much turnover year to year with the Pioneers. They would like the move to ultimately minimize the communication gap between those involved and lead to more consistency long term.

There will be some new faces and adjustments for all involved, but the bottom line is that there will still be baseball in Elk River this summer – just with a different team name and a different core.

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