American Legion: New season, familiar faces
Post 167 ready to make transition from Willmar’s state high school team
WILLMAR — With its first home game of the season Tuesday, the Willmar American Legion Post 167 fans will be seeing some familiar faces. The Willmar Cardinals baseball season may have ended, but it seems to have returned for the legion team.
Doug Ruter, the head coach of the Post 167 team, says he is feeling very confident about the team coming into the summer season.
“The kids have really good attitudes; they’re a good team, very good team,” he said.
The legion team will be nearly complete with players from the high school team with 17 of its 18 players coming from the Cardinals’ roster.
Four of the five seniors, minus Chase Dirksen, will be playing for the Post 167 team.
“It’s nice to have that chemistry,” Ruter said. “This group has been playing together for a few years and just think they’re fun to watch essentially.”
Senior catcher Dylan Arndorfer is looking forward to taking the field yet again with his teammates.
“I love taking the field with those guys. We’re all just really good friends and we play great baseball together,” Arndorfer said. “It’s always fun taking the field with those guys.”
In terms of the transition from high school to legion ball, the head coach and the athlete had different answers.
Ruter, who played varsity baseball and legion ball and is in his 11th season of coaching Post 167, says the transition depends on the player.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody. For some kids, it’s the end of their career,” he said. “But (the four seniors), they’re preparing and getting ready for college ball. They’re hungry to get better and keep playing.”
For Arndorfer, the transition is not based on talent, but the pressure.
“There’s just not as much pressure in legion baseball, to be honest,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing varsity baseball. But with legion baseball, there is just not as much pressure and it makes it a lot more fun.”
Despite the different answers, both agreed that the summer team had its eyes set on the state tournament July 28-Aug. 1 in St. Cloud.
The Cardinals saw their varsity season come to a close in Jordan with a 16-9 loss to St. Thomas Academy in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament on June 15.
“If we can get a little better hitting, we’re going to be tough come sub-state,” Ruter said.
From a player’s mindset, Arndorfer is confident Post 167 has what it takes to get to state.
“I think that we can do it,” he said. “We did it at the varsity level and I believe that we can still do it here.”
Looking back at the game against the Cadets, Arndorfer believes the team needs to hit better.
“We just probably got to get the bats going,” he said. “Our pitchers pitched well, we just couldn’t get our bats to warm up.
“If we can get the bats going, we should have a strong chance at being successful come the end of the season.”
With the legion season beginning just days after the conclusion of high school ball, the impact of the spring season will be a focus in the summer months.
In the Marshall wood bat tournament Saturday, the Post 167 team ended with a 1-1 split, losing the first game 1-0, but winning the second 8-2.
“It was hard … We had a little get-together and one little practice,” Ruter said. “Maybe had a little bit more of a tough start (Saturday) in the first game, it was just so quick to get organized.
“But overall it was just one of those days where the bounces just didn’t go our way. But the kids defensively really played well and (Sam) Etterman really pitched well.”
Ruter believes with the team chemistry, and the help of the Willmar community, the impact will be minor and Post 167 will be ready to play at its best during the season.
“Parents and fans will be strong and they’ll be coming. It’s going to be fun. Really looking forward to it,” he said.
Post 167’s next home game is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Litchfield. Willmar then plays host to New Ulm at 1 p.m. Saturday.