Serna can do it all
WILLMAR -- When Matt Serna moved from left field to shortstop late in the Willmar Stingers game against the Rochester Honkers on Tuesday night, the move meant he had played all nine positions this summer in the Northwoods League.
Serna, who hit a walk-off single in the 10th inning Thursday night in Willmar's 6-5 win over Rochester, was an infielder in high school at Arlington Heights, Ill., and also at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"I have mainly been a middle infielder in my high school and college career," said Serna, who will be a senior this fall at UI-Chicago. "I was playing second base in college when the Stingers signed me. But they told me they had already signed two second baseman and they were going to make me a utility player."
Little did Serna know that utility meant playing every position.
Serna had never caught a game in high school or college, but was asked to put on the gear when the team's two catchers, Nate Johnson and Anthony Bemboom, were both injured at the same time a few weeks ago. Serna looked like a seasoned veteran behind the plate.
"I was pretty nervous before the game," he admitted. "I really had never caught before, but I had practiced catching a few times. I felt better and more comfortable as the game went on."
To date, Serna has mainly played second and third base and left field, besides catching three full games and one inning of a fourth this season. He also has played one game at first base, one at shortstop, two in center field, two in right field and also has pitched one scoreless inning.
"He played all nine positions and he played them all well," said Stingers manager Matt Hollod. "We even had him out on the mound for an inning and he threw strikes. It wasn't like he was throwing the ball all over the place."
Serna said he would like to play all nine positions in the same game, as former Minnesota Twin Cesar Tovar did in a major league game in 1968.
"(The coaches and I) talked about it," he said, referring to playing every position in a game. "But we won't do it unless we have already clinched the playoffs or are out of playoffs."
The Stingers were tied for first place in the second-half race in the North Division. Rochester won the first half. The winners of each half will play a best-of-three series in the playoffs.
"I think it's been a pleasant surprise that we are doing as well as we are," said Serna. "Especially since we're a first-year team. We've actually got a pretty good team and this season has been a lot of fun."
Dwyer leaves team
Sean Dwyer, the Stingers' lone high school player (each Northwoods League team is permitted to sign only one high school player), left the team after Tuesday night's game because he had to attend college orientation at Florida Gulf Coast. He is also pondering whether to sign with the San Diego Padres, who drafted the outfielder in the 15th round of this summer's draft. If Dwyer turns down the Padres, he has indicated he will rejoin the team and finish out the season before heading to college.
Dwyer is hitting .291 with 22 RBI and is tied for the team lead with three home runs.
Dwyer pinch hit in the fifth inning of Tuesday's game, then pitched one inning in an 11-2 loss to Rochester.
One more home series
The Stingers have only one more homestand remaining, unless they qualify for the playoffs. But even qualifying for the playoffs might mean moving the team's home games to another park because Willmar is hosting the Class B and C state amateur tournament this summer.
"There is a concern that we might have a home playoff game or two when the state amateur tournament is going on," said Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz. "We might have to let the other team have the home games or we will have to find somewhere else. We'll get it all figured out."
Moving the Stingers out of Bill Taunton Stadium would mean a big loss in revenue for the city and the team. Especially since they are averaging around 1,000 fans per game as opposed to a state amateur game, which would draw a substantially smaller number. But Willmar won the bid for the amateur tournament, along with Bird Island and Spicer, and would likely not want to make alternate plans at this stage.
The Stingers' final four games are Monday through Thursday with the final night being Fan Appreciation Night in which several prizes will be given away and a fireworks show will be held after the game.