Willmar Stingers: Bo goes pro

Assistant coach Al Leyva replaces Bo Henning as Stingers manager after Henning takes a job with the Atlanta Braves organization

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Al Leyva (right) will take over as the Willmar Stingers' manager this summer, replacing Bo Henning (28) after Henning accepted a job as a pitching coach in the Atlanta Braves organization. File photo

WILLMAR — Like the hopefuls playing for Northwoods League teams dream of, Bo Henning got the call from a Major League Baseball franchise.

Henning, who was scheduled to return as field manager for a third season with the Willmar Stingers, announced last week on Twitter that he accepted a job with the Atlanta Braves organization. He’ll serve as pitching coach for the Danville Braves, the organization’s Advanced Rookie-level team in Danville, Virginia.


Henning began with the Stingers as the pitching coach in 2017 before taking over as manager in 2018. He also played in the Northwoods League in 2012 with the La Crosse Loggers and Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.

“I wasn’t looking for any job,” said Henning, who was the pitching coach for Division II Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “But that’s how business works; networking and having a friend of a friend. The assistant GM reached out to me, we ended up talking and then it just unfolded to them offering me a job.”

With Henning’s departure, the Stingers will promote assistant coach Al Leyva to field manager and also will retain assistant coach Matt Caselli.

Al is the younger brother of Nick Leyva, who was the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies from 1989-91.

“We kinda knew over the last month that Bo was going to get this job,” said Al Leyva, who joined Willmar in 2018. “He asked, ‘Hey, would you take over if I took another job?’ We kind of knew this would happen and (Stingers co-owners) Ryan (Voz) and Marc (Jerzak) said, ‘When Bo gives it up, we’d like to explore having you do it.’”

When the Northwoods League season opens up, the Stingers will add Kevin Smith as pitching coach. Smith is currently the head coach at Covina (California) High School.

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” said Leyva, who said he’s coached against and with Smith in college baseball in the past. “He could very easily be the head coach, too, but his specialty is pitching. It was a no-brainer to bring him in as long as Ryan and Marc signed off on it.”

In his two seasons as field manager, Henning led the Stingers to a Great Plains Division-leading 88 wins, with two playoff appearances, extending Willmar’s postseason streak to six years.


“When I told Marc and Ryan months ago to call and thank them, I actually got emotional,” Henning said. “I’m a big go-go kind of guy. Going from Florida to California to Minnesota, my life doesn’t have time to slow down. My time (in Willmar) was very impactful. Funny enough, when I was talking to the guys that hired me at Danville, they were very impressed with the pitching staffs in the Northwoods League and how I was able to manage at the same time and win a lot of games. … I think it had a pretty big part in me getting hired in professional baseball.”

Voz said about Henning’s departure, “It’s exciting for us. We get to see a lot of opportunities for players with the hopes of making it to the big leagues and now (Henning) gets his opportunity. It’s tough to see him go because he was a good one, but we’re happy for him.”

Now, the question becomes when Leyva and the rest of the Stingers can get on the field. The Northwoods League announced Monday that the league will open up in Michigan, with Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Traverse City forming the Michigan pod of teams with two three-team divisions. The North includes: the Traverse City Pit Spitters; Traverse City Resorters; and the Northern Michigan Dune Bears. The South Division includes: the Kalamazoo Growlers; Kalamazoo Mac Daddies; and Battle Creek Bombers. The league previously announced regional pods for Wisconsin-Illinois in early June and North Dakota in late May.

Voz said the desired goal is to begin the season on July 1.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road in terms of delaying the start of the season,” he said. “We still have high hopes to put together some semblance of a season.”

Like the players, Leyva is anxious to get back on a baseball field.

“We’re in different times, but it’ll be nice to be back on the field and throw some BP (batting practice) and listening to guys’ stories. That’s why I do this thing.”


Joe Brown is a sports reporter for the West Central Tribune.

He can be reached via email at: or his office number: 320-214-4332.
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