WILLMAR — Drey Dirksen knows all about Jordan Smith, the former Willmar Cardinal and St. Cloud State star who played eight seasons of professional baseball, mostly in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Dirksen also has been a fan of the Willmar Stringers, the city’s entrant in the Northwoods League, since the team began play in 2010.
In 2020, Dirksen follows in Smith’s footsteps as the second Willmar High School graduate to play for the Stingers.
“It’s really cool,” Dirksen said. “I’m super excited.”
The team announced Dirksen’s signing Monday. He’ll primarily catch for the Stingers in the 2020 season as soon as his spring season with the Augustana Vikings is over.
Dirksen, a 2019 Willmar graduate, has made Augustana’s team as a freshman and will be accompanying the squad when it opens Feb. 19 against Bates College in Winter Haven, Florida.
When Augustana’s season is over, and the Vikings hope it isn’t until June, he’ll come home to play for the Stingers.
“I was totally on-board basically since they came to town,” Dirksen said. “To get to play with my hometown team is really cool.”
Dirksen is the fourth player from Augustana, an NCAA Division II program in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to play in Willmar.
Sam Baier, Riley Johnson and Evan Furst, all current Augustana players, played for the Stingers last summer. That and his good play in fall baseball, helped earn Dirksen a contract.
“I had a really good fall league with Augustana,” Dirksen explained. “My coach (Tim Huber) is good friends with the Stinger coaches. Augustana has had some other guys play in Willmar.
“He let them know I was interested.”
Dirksen was the West Central Tribune’s Henstler-Ranweiler Award winner as the area’s top male three-sport athlete in 2018-19.
Dirksen was a nine-time letter-winner and a star in football, basketball and baseball in high school. He’s considered an outstanding defensive catcher who also was a strong-armed pitcher for the Cardinals.
He said he can remember watching the Stingers play, but also working out one day near where his youth travel team was working out. It left an impression.
“Just watching it was fun,” Dirksen said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it now with playing time.”
Dirksen was a huge fan of Smith, an outfielder who was the ninth-round draft choice of the Indians in 2011. He wrapped up his pro career in 2018 playing independent ball for the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association. He just missed becoming the sixth former Stinger to make it to the major leagues. That list includes pitchers Jacob Barnes (Milwaukee Brewers), Steve Brault (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Colin Poche (Tampa Bay Rays), catcher Anthony Bemboom (Rays, Los Angeles Angels) and Hunter Dozier (Kansas City Royals).
“It’s kind of crazy that the only one before is Jordan,” Dirksen said. “That’s cool.
“I grew up watching him play. To be able to get a chance to do what he did is nice.”
Dirksen is an exercise science major who plans to become a physical therapist. Augustana is in the process of becoming an NCAA Division I program in all its athletics, but currently plays Division II in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
When it comes to summer ball, there was no question where he wanted to play.
“I guess I never really talked to any other teams,” Dirksen said. “I know I wanted to play with the Stingers only and not anywhere else. It’s a really good league and a really good team.”
Dirksen also realizes he’s about to become the Stingers players’ unofficial tour guide as the lone expert on the area.
“I’ll kind of have to tell everybody everything,” Dirksen said.
The Stingers gladly welcome their second Willmar High School alum.
“We are excited to continue our relationship with Coach Huber and the Vikings Baseball program,” Stingers Co-Owner Ryan Voz said in a statement. “We are thrilled to have another player with ties to Willmar be able to play in front of the fans at Bill Taunton Stadium.”