Baseball: The Dinger Dome delivers for Paynesville Bulldogs
A piece of leftover equipment rewards Paynesville's hitters, who have hit six home runs in first four games
PAYNESVILLE — With every home run, the Paynesville baseball team holds a coronation ceremony.
When the batter reaches home, the Bulldogs hold court at the plate as a new home run king is crowned. Not with a regal crown bedazzled with the finest jewels and gold. Instead, it’s a beat-up batting helmet dubbed the “Dinger Dome” that had been gathering dust in the team’s batting cages under the stadium's grandstand.
“It was just an old two-piece mask from one of the Pirates teams or something,” said senior outfielder/catcher Max Athmann, alluding to the Paynesville Pirates amateur baseball team. “It had no padding left in it so no one really used it. It just sat in the cage, so we’re like, it’s not getting used, so we may as well put it to use.”
Turns out, there may be some magic left in that ol’ cap they found.
Through the first four games of the season, the Bulldogs have hit six home runs on the way to a 3-1 record and the No. 5 ranking in the Class AA state poll.
“I think it’s great,” said Brad Skoglund, who's in his 36th season as Paynesville's head coach. “The kids came up with the concept and they’re having fun at the ballpark. It’s the highlight of the day.”
The idea of the Dinger Dome was conceived by seniors Grayson Fuchs and Spencer Eisenbraun. Athmann jumped in, applying the green, black and white paint job. It was ready to go just days before the season opener.
“A lot of colleges do a home-run chain or something like that,” Athmann said. “So we were like, let’s make something with the helmet.”
Home run props have popped up all over the pros this spring. The Minnesota Twins broke out a “Land of 10,000 Rakes” fishing vest and kid’s fishing rod. The Seattle Mariners have a trident. The Cincinnati Reds (viking helmet) and Milwaukee Brewers (cheese-head) have their own head ware.
“I thought it was a really cool idea, really neat,” said Bulldogs junior catcher Isaac Lieser. “Something that’s special to our organization that can live on for years.”
Almost everyone was into the idea of the new home-run hardware.
“All the coaches thought it was really cool besides (assistant coach) Ron Fuchs,” Athmann said after a laugh. “He was a little nervous we were going to be all super giddy trying to hit home runs and messing with our swings. But obviously that’s not the case; all of us are hitting really well.
The Dinger Dome made its debut with a two-run home run by Austin Pauls in the bottom of the first inning of the season opener April 18 against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. Six days later, Lieser got the Dinger Dome for the first time with a two-run shot in the sixth inning against Morris/Chokio-Alberta.
After hitting a dinger, the reigning home run king is in charge of the Dinger Dome. And after every bomb, the player signs their initials on the Dinger Dome. Hit more than one homer? Put tallies next to your initials.
“We have the year written on it for which year all these players hit the home runs,” Athmann said.
Against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on April 25, Athmann sported the Dinger Dome for the first time with a three-run homer in the bottom of the second. His reign as king lasted all of two at-bats when Lieser drove the ball over the fence in left-center for a solo shot in the same inning.
“It’s been in my bag for a couple days now,” Lieser said last week.
In Monday’s 11-6 loss to Eden Valley-Watkins, the Dinger Dome was passed around again. Pauls got his second of the season with a solo homer in the fifth. Athmann left with the Dinger Dome after belting a two-run shot in the sixth.
The returning players figured they had some power bats back in the lineup, but the home run pace has been a bit of a surprise in the dugout. Along with the home run total, Paynesville has 34 hits — an average of 8.5 per game — and a .324 batting average.
“I didn’t think it was going to start off this quick,” Athmann admitted. “But obviously the work that we’ve put in — we grind it out every practice and we go hard no matter what — we’re getting better every single day. I think that our work is paying off.
“I figured it’d be more towards the heart of the season with the hitting and all that stuff, but it’s taken off really fast.”
Heading into Thursday’s doubleheader with Maple Lake at Faber Field in St. Cloud, it’s been two stints for Lieser, two for Pauls and two for Athmann.
“It’s a special treat crossing home plate with the crown comin’,” Lieser said.
Said Skoglund, “There’s excitement about it and they’re cheering each other on. It’s creating fun team chemistry.”