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West Central Baseball HOF to induct up to five in inaugural class

WILLMAR — The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., isn’t the only Hall of Fame inducting new members this month.

The Kandiyohi County Historical Society’s West Central Baseball Hall of Fame will honor its inaugural class Jan. 17 at the Willmar Civic Center, an event the Willmar Stingers will co-host.

The inductees will be selected from a 12-player pool and will be announced next week.

The Hall of Fame came from wanting to do something with baseball in the region, Jill Wohnoutka, director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.

“We talked to the Stingers because we wanted to do something on baseball history,” she said. “So we brainstormed a couple ideas and we decided to go with the Hall of Fame.”

The 12 candidates for selection were nominated by the public: Blix Donnelly (Olivia); Randy Haats (Willmar); Joe Martinson (Willmar); Rueben Nathe (Litchfield); Norman Jones (Litchfield); Howie Schultz (St. Paul); Bill Wegner (Raymond); Steve Schneider (Jordan); Art Grangaard (Willmar); Robert Hendrickson (Hancock); Mike Kingery (Grove City); and Barry Wohler (Orono).

The number nominees is open but with a maximum of five inducted in each class.

Nominees are drawn from a 45-mile radius of Willmar and can be in three categories: professional, amateur or community involvement. They don’t have to be from the area but have to have resided in the area at some point.

The Historical Society hopes to induct new members annually, Wohnoutka said.

“We’ll open up the nominations every year,” she said. “Then it’s up to the committee.”

Along with helping to host the induction event, the Stingers helped come up with the four-person selection committee that includes Wayne Nelson from Heritage Bank, Steve Rambow from Rambow Inc., Jerry Johnson from the Historical Society and Clinton Rierson.

“(The Historical Society) wanted to celebrate the history of baseball in this area,” Stingers’ co-owner Ryan Voz said. “We’re not directly tied to this Hall of Fame since the Stingers have only been here for four years, but it would be nice to have a former coach or Stinger (inducted) way, way down the road.”

Willmar Stingers manager Matt Hollod and three former Stingers players will be on hand to help kick off the event: Willmar native and Cleveland Indians’ prospect Jordan Smith; Milwaukee Brewers’ prospect Jacob Barnes; and Colorado Rockies’ prospect Sean Dwyer.

Smith and Barnes each played in high Class-A in 2013 for the Carolina Mudcats and the Brevard County Manatees, respectively. They were both selected in the 2011 MLB draft.

Dwyer, who was drafted in June out of Florida Gulf Coast, played 58 games for the rookie league Tri City Valley Cats after signing his pro contract.

The trio all played for the Stingers during the inaugural 2010 season, and Dwyer returned for 2011.

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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