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NWL Baseball: Hollod steps down as Stingers manager

Former Willmar Stingers manager Matt Hollod waters the Bill Taunton Stadium infield in this 2013 file photo. Hollod is stepping down as Stingers manager after four seasons. Tribune file photo.

The only manager the Stingers have had in their four years of existence stepped down Monday to focus on his head coaching position at NCAA Division III Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.

USC-Upstate pitching coach and former Alexandria Beetles manager Drew Saberhagen will take over the Stingers for 2014.

Hollod had signed on to return the Stingers last fall but he said his university job had to take priority.

“I loved coaching (in Willmar),” Hollod said. “But I wasn’t going to go to Willmar every summer the rest of my life. The reality is a head coaching job at a university is more important than summer baseball. That doesn’t take anything away from my time in Willmar. It was just a matter of time.”

When Hollod started at Wilkes, the team was coming off a 13-26 finish in 2012. One season later, he’d led them to a 21-15 record.  

“I took over this program that was pretty broken but we still have a long ways to go,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing when I’m away for three months when you’re trying to build up a program, and if I stay in baseball and move on and get a better job, the job at the university is what’s going to get me to that place.”

Hollod played college ball at the University of Washington and the University of Portland, and also played in the Northwoods League in 1997 and ’98 for the now-defunct Grand Forks Channel Cats. He finishes his NWL managerial career with 160 wins, ninth all-time in league history.

“Matt was a great manager for us,” Stingers’ co-owner Ryan Voz said. “To have that consistency for four years was very important. Not only did he bring knowledge of the game, but the understanding from the player side having played in the league.”

An assistant coach at Southern Utah when he was hired in 2009, Hollod said the NWL helped prepare him for his climb up the ladder.

“I think I learned a lot both on and off the field,” he said. “Having a game every single night, game situations … 280 games I had a chance to manage over four years. You learn how to manage a team and lead them when you’re off the field.  Going on road trips, on the bus, in hotels … I was always big on carrying yourself with class.”

The late notice left the Stingers scrambling to find a replacement, and Voz reached out to Saberhagen, who he knew from his days as the Beetles’ general manager.

“I called him out of the blue,” Voz said. “I hadn’t spoken to him in a while. He was open to the idea. He loves the league.”

Saberhagen comes in with a wealth of baseball experience.

The son of former Kansas City Royals’ pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen, Drew played college ball at Pepperdine and Western Carolina.

His sophomore year at Western Carolina, he was named All-Southern Conference when he went 9-1 and was 22nd in the country with a 2.87 ERA.

He played four years for the Beetles, later becoming their pitching coach for two years and manager for one.

After graduating from Western Carolina in 2011, he spent two seasons as an assistant at NCAA Division II Newberry College before taking the pitching coach position at USC-Upstate.

While at Newberry, he was involved in summer recruiting and had to leave the Alexandria managerial job after the 2012 season, but at Upstate has his summers free again.

“I wasn’t looking for a job, but it was an offer I couldn’t turn down,” he said. “I love the Northwoods League, I have a ton of respect for it. It’s a really good opportunity to work with some kids that are looking to enjoy a summer but really develop at a new level.”

He’ll have some big shoes to fill replacing Hollod, who graduated 26 players into professional baseball in four years.

“The teams we’ve put together have represented themselves well and played very good baseball,” Hollod said. “The level they’ve been playing at was fun to be a part of.”

Voz said the managerial change will not affect recruiting.

“Everything stays the same,” he said. “The players that commit to playing for Willmar are contacts the organization has. We establish relationships with the colleges, so if we ever have turnover that those relationships continue to exist.” 

Saberhagen’s Beetles faced the Stingers during Hollod’s tenure, and Saberhagen said he liked Hollod’s style.

“I got to know (Hollod) pretty well,” Saberhagen said. He was extremely aggressive, which I really like. His teams always had fun and played hard.” 

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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