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John’s Journal: Twelve Hours, 420 Miles And Great Baseball Memories

In Last-Minute North-South Matchup, Cromwell-Wright Plays At Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2023 - 7:26 PM


After wrapping up a baseball doubleheader, players from Cromwell-Wright and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton posed for a photo.  




After throwing a no-hitter in the first game, JWP's Chase Gerdts donned a crown, cape and scepter as "King of the Game.”

On the original schedule for the baseball team from Cromwell-Wright, a game was planned for Tuesday vs. Floodwood, which is barely 18 miles from Cromwell. The Cardinals – who are located 40 miles west of Duluth -- ended up traveling a lot farther than that in order to not only play their first game, but to actually get on grass and dirt for the first time in the midst of ugly spring weather that has upended sports of all kinds across the state.

They played a doubleheader on the road Tuesday, with “the road” being a key part of their day. The Cardinals boarded Cromwell-Wright school bus Number 7 at 10:30 a.m. and drove south for three and a half hours – with a lunch stop in Hinckley -- before arriving in Janesville to meet the Bulldogs of Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. By the time they arrived home late Tuesday night, they had been gone for more than 12 hours.

All that time, all those miles -- 420 round-trip miles, to be exact … was it all worth it?

“Oh yeah, it was worth it,” said Cardinals sophomore Brady Dahl, who played shortstop and pitcher Tuesday. It was worth it to finally play on grass.”

The Cardinals had spent most of this snowy and cold spring throwing, catching and hitting inside their gym. They had been outdoors only three times, working out on a school parking lot.

“We've got snow on our field and just tough conditions,” coach Dean Levinski said after the doubleheader in Janesville.We’d do anything to get outside and this was a great experience for us.”

The doubleheader came together in a hurry. In fact, it wasn’t locked down until Monday … about 24 hours before the first pitch. There is a section on the MSHSL website called Games Wanted, and Cromwell had posted a note that it was looking for games. When Janesville activities director Paul Brunner saw that post on Monday, he called Cromwell-Wright A.D. Dave Foster and before long everything was set.

Before Monday’s practice, Levinski told the players that they would be heading to a town that most of them had never heard of; it’s also safe to say that few if any players from Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton knew anything about Cromwell.

“We were looking for a game down south and I really assumed it would be a weekend deal, but these people called and we're more than happy to get out of there,” Levinski said of the conditions in northern Minnesota.

As in much of the state, but especially up north, the never-ending poor weather conditions have been frustrating for everyone.

“It was really cold in the beginning and then it let up and it was getting nice,” said Cromwell-Wright junior catcher Andrew Kachinske. “And then right as we were about to probably have a game, it snowed again. It’s just disappointing to not be able to play.

“Yesterday, right before practice our coach told us, ‘We’re going to have a game.’ None of us expected it. But we were all pretty happy about that.”

Because of low numbers, Cromwell-Wright didn’t field a baseball team from 2010 through 2021. But the program came back to life last spring.

“There has always been really good Little League in the Cromwell-Wright area but we didn't have any opportunities for the kids after that,” Levinski. “So four or five years ago, my coaches here and myself, we took the seventh-graders and started just playing junior high games, and last year was our first year (of varsity games).”

The Cardinals are a young team, which was evident as the more experienced Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Bulldogs swept the doubleheader. They won the first game 10-0 in six innings, with freshman pitcher Chase Gerdts throwing a nine-strikeout no-hitter – and donning a crown, cape and scepter after being named “King of the Game” -- and Kelton Erler driving in three runs. In the second game, a five-inning affair, JWP won 8-3.

“The bulk of our players are freshmen and sophomores,” Levinski said. “We finished today with seventh grade, eighth grade and seventh grade in the outfield. It's not ideal, our depth is not where we need to be. To be honest with you, that's what shut down the program in the first place.”

After the second game ended, the Cardinals and Bulldogs exchanged handshakes and gathered together at home plate for a dual-team photo, with Cromwell red and Janesville blue mixing nicely.  

The Cardinals left their dugout spotless, with not one gum wrapper or empty water bottle left behind. The Bulldogs provided their visitors with a case of water and a stack of pizzas from the local Casey’s convenience store for the ride home, which was much appreciated.

Levinski and JWP coach Cory Jewison talked about the possibility of making this an annual rivalry, which would be something special.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton had played two games before Tuesday, defeating Blooming Prairie (44 miles away) and St. Clair (10). As the bus from Cromwell-Wright pulled away on its 210-mile trip north, one of the JWP players said to his teammates, “Hey! Let’s say goodbye to our friends!”

They waved and hollered as the Cardinals waved back from inside the bus. It had been a fine day of baseball, new friendships and memories.

“I’ve always felt that at every school, every kid should have a chance to play baseball,” Levinski said. “It's too good of a game to not give them a chance at least.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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