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Willmar notebook: Stingers’ coach McIntee ‘home’ for the summer

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Willmar assistant coach P.J. McIntee has lead on the “fire hose” to wet the Baker Field infield prior to Friday’s game at Bill Taunton Stadium.

When it came time to place new Willmar Stingers assistant coach P.J. McIntee with a host family, there was no question — he’d be staying on Augusta Avenue.

At grandpa and grandmas.

For him, this has been the perfect combination of baseball and down-home hospitality.

“Growing up, Willmar was like a second home,” P.J. told me by phone while in the Twin Cities on Tuesday during the Northwoods League all-star break.

P.J. grew up in Randolph, a small town between Hastings and Northfield. His mother is Willmar native Jill (Horning) McIntee, a nurse; his dad, Pat, a chiropractor, grew up in the St. Cloud area and the Twin Cities.

P.J. graduated with the Class of 2005. Among his 33 classmates was best friend Caleb Thielbar.

“We grew up a block apart near the ballpark,” said P.J.

They were teammates in Little League through high school.

P.J. went on to play at Bemidji State, where he led the Beavers in hitting his senior year (2009). Caleb enrolled at South Dakota State.

P.J. just finished his second year as assistant coach at Southeast Community College in West Burlington, Iowa. His duties include recruiting coordinator at a school which recruits nationwide and the Caribbean. “Our goal each year is the (NJCAA Division I) World Series,” he said.

This spring, Thielbar became the first Jackrabbit to reach the major leagues. The Twins brought him up in May.

“We talk a lot, maybe once a week now, more often in the offseason,” P.J. said.

(Thielbar, I’m guessing, is also the first Randolph native to play in the majors. The southpaw has been sensational, hurling 22X\c innings in 21 games with a 0.71 ERA and a 1-0 record).

P.J. knew Stingers’ co-owners Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak through his uncle and former Cardinal minor leaguer Dave Oehrlein, who is married to P.J.’s aunt, Dena Horning.

He joined the coaching staff, under manager Matt Hollod (fourth year), as one of three assistants. P.J. works most closely with the catchers and outfielder, Steve Sanchez (second year) with the hitters and Carlos Leyva (former Stinger) with the infielders. All three share throwing batting practice and hitting ground balls and field prep, in addition to game duties.

Baseball is close to the heart of the Horning household. Jon, the former Cardinal baseball coach whose 1987 team won the Minnesota big-school state title, and Terry’s children, and now grandchildren, consistently show up on the local sports pages.

P.J’s cousins, Tyler and Ryan Horning, are playing for the New London-Spicer Twins. Heather just ended an outstanding career as the top pitcher and hitter for the Cardinals fast-pitch team.

“A lot us are pretty close,” said P.J.

His parents are able to get to games when the Stingers are conveniently at Mankato or Rochester.

“This is a great opportunity,” said P.J., “We play 70 games in 76 days and then to be able to spend a summer with grandpa and grandma and see my cousins. It’s been really special.”

A pilgrim’s progress

Bruce Maynard, age 79, who passed through these parts two weeks ago, walked 14 hours on Tuesday trying to cover 45 miles. He blogs that he is in physical distress with two strained ankles plus blisters that have popped from his new shoes (Brooks, his favorite brand). The coast-to-coast trekker, pushing a three-wheeled cart, spent Tuesday night sleeping on four, folded steel chairs at a 24-hour Cenex Convenience Store at Richardton, N.D., about 30 miles east of Dickenson on I-94. His plans were to recover yesterday and pass the night in a motel. His destination is the Canada border, north of Seattle.

Bill Taunton joining baseball HOF

Former Willmar businessman Bill Taunton will be inducted into the Minnesota American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. The ceremony and banquet, at the Double Tree Inn at Bloomington next Thursday, opens the five-day Division I state tournament in Edina. Gophers baseball coach John Anderson is the featured speaker.

Bill, who owned the Red Owl grocery store in Willmar, umpired games in District 7, regional and state Legion tournaments and the Legion World Series in Boyertown, Penn. and Ely, Minn., as well as the Big 10.

His efforts brought the single-class Legion state tournament to Willmar four times. He’s also credited in the 1970s with pushing American Legion Baseball nationwide to ban chewing tobacco on the field and in dugouts.

Many would agree that his induction is long overdue, including Mike Gort of Marshall and Rueben Nathe of Litchfield who co-sponsored the nomination made last fall before the Minnesota America Legion District Directors.

Jacobson named to Minnesota team

Willmar golfer Andy Jacobson has been selected to join Team Minnesota for the Culver’s Midwest Cup. The regional event will be held at the highly-rated Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Neb.

“It will be a blast to participate and represent Team Minnesota,” commented Jacobson, who adds that his wife Sara will also make the trip.

The interstate tournament features the best players from eight Upper Midwest and Great Lakes states. Captains make the final selection based on the state association’s points list. Team Minnesota won the 2012 tourney.

Jacobson finished in a tie for third last week at the 110th State Am. The only players in the original field of 156 who scored better were champion Sam Matthews of Roseville, who will be a junior at South Dakota State, and runner-up Ben Welle of Moorhead, who is transferring to Kansas after playing for Scottsdale (Ariz.) CC as a freshman.

On the fly

n Chad Schmiesing’s Rambow/Water Days Tournament went well drawing some outstanding talent from about the state.  The new courts at New London and at two locations in Willmar should increase interest in the sport. Schmiesing and Jim Anderson, at Willmar, are pushing youth tennis and tournament participation. The Willmar tournament comes up early in August. Former New London-Spicer teammates Megan Seipel and Angie Wiegmann won women’s doubles at both the early Willmar tourney and Water Days. Both played four years of college tennis before graduating in 2012 from St. Ben’s and Southwest Minnesota State, respectively. Isaac and Travis Toivonen of Red Wing won Men’s Open singles championship and consolation, respectively, at Water Days. They are the sons of Willmar graduate Lisa Hanson Toivonen and Doug Toivonen of Starbuck.

n All-Area basketball player Taylor Thunstedt is playing AAU for the Minnesota Metro Stars. She’s played at tournaments in San Francisco, Portland and Chicago with a tournament coming up in Hopkins to close the summer slate. NLS Wildcats’ teammate Breanna Fredrick is playing with the 16s Comets while her sister Alyssa Fredrick and Megan Thorson are with the 14s. With one year left, Thunstedt already is the all-time leading scorer at NLS and has a good chance to become the Area’s all-time leading scorer before her graduation.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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