WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers have signed their first two players for the 2010 inaugural Northwoods League season, including the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.
Joe Sever, a freshman shortstop/second baseman, and Nate Johnson, a sophomore catcher, will be teammates at Pepperdine University this coming spring, and then will also play together with the Stingers this summer. Sever, whose mother, Jana, is Elway's twin sister, was the San Jose High School Athlete of the Year in 2009.
Sever batted .496 with six home runs his senior year in high school. Sever wore the number seven on his uniform on the baseball and football teams, the same number Elway wore with the Denver Broncos.
Sever was wide receiver/outside linebacker in football for Bellarmine High School.
But when perusing the Pepperdine website, Sever was issued number nine for the 2010 season.
"I wanted number seven, but the coach already had that number." laughed Sever, by telephone Monday night. "Maybe I can slip him a 20 and buy his number."
Sever said he requested number seven with the Stingers.
Johnson is a left-handed hitter from Camarillo, Calif. He became a starter his freshman season with Pepperdine and batted .242 with five home runs. He also played summer collegiate baseball last year for the Danville (Ill.) Dans in the Prospect League, hitting .256 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 29 RBI in 43 games.
Pepperdine is a Division I school located in Malibu, Calif. The Waves were 30-23 last season. The team has qualified for the NCAA Championship Series 20 times and won the College World Series title in 1992. Overall, there have been 30 former Pepperdine players go on to play in the major leagues.
"Pepperdine has always had a very solid baseball program and have sent some of their best players into the league," Stingers manager Matt Hollod said. "Their players have had great success in the league and both of these guys will play a big role for us."
The Stingers open the season June 3 at home against the St. Cloud River Bats. The team will play 70 games this summer and will have 30 players on a 26-man active roster.
Hollod was named the team's first manager recently. He is currently an assistant coach at Southern Utah University.
The Northwoods League is an elite summer collegiate league. Several former Northwoods League players, including New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson, have gone on to play professionally.
"My coach at Pepperdine (Steve Rodriguez) asked me where I was going to play this summer," explained Sever. "I've had a lot of friends play in the Northwoods League and I really wanted to play there. It's a great league and this will be a good opportunity for me."
Sever's best friend and high school classmate, Jared Melman, currently plays hockey for the Granite City Lumberjacks in St. Cloud, just an hour from Willmar.
The Stingers are offering a $99 season ticket special package for the first 100 tickets sold. Regular prices for season tickets are $149 for reserved seat backs and $169 for box seats. Call 320-222-2010 or visit www.willmarstingers.com.