Let’s just say, the 2013 was about rebuilding for the Manitowoc Bandits baseball program.
After winning the Northeastern Wisconsin League championship in 2011, the last two seasons have been low on the wins. Last summer the Bandits’ player/manager was called up mid-season to one of the premier college summer leagues, thrusting a 22-year-old into an immediate position of leadership.
As the losses piled up, even the Bandits’ website stopped updating results.
It culminated in a forgettable 3-16 NWL campaign. But as the 2014 season looms, there is a sense of optimism, that a turnaround is on the way.
The season gets underway tonight, when the Bandits host the rival Sheboygan A’s at Municipal Field. Gametime is 7:30 p.m.
Stability is something Manitowoc hopes falls in its favor. For one, the manager is back. Alex Brewer was put into a tough spot when he took over following Tom Sawyer’s call-up to Green Bay.
“I just wanted to make sure we finished the year,” said Brewer. “Now, to have had a year to play and be part of the process is kind of nice.”
Brewer’s father was a manager for the hometown baseball team in the town of Rio, so Alex says he grew up in that atmosphere, relishing the local pride for the local team. He also played for the squad.
“I’m kind of leading off where my dad left me,” said Brewer. “He equipped me with the background to do it.”
Manitowoc’s roster will have a distinctly Viking feel to it. Of the 17 players currently list on the Opening Day roster, 11 of them have played college ball at Lawrence University in Appleton.
Brewer, who also took the role of general manager this season, liberally used his connection to the school. Brewer, 23, was an All-Midwest Conference pitcher for Lawrence his senior year in 2013.
Four players with local connections will suit up for the Bandits.
Roncalli grad Matt Roberts is back. He is currently playing for UW-Whitewater, which qualified for the NCAA Division III National Tournament this spring. He missed all of last season with an arm injury.
Atley Gay, a Roncalli grad and one of the Lawrence connections, is back for his third season with the Bandits. He’s expected to be one of the top pitchers.
Also on the team are Lincoln grad Cole Wimmer, on the UW-Oshkosh roster, and Casey Schreiner, a Lincoln grad playing at Marian University in Fond du Lac.
“I think it’s a pretty good core group of guys,” said Brewer. “It’s going to be a pretty solid group.”
This will be the 16th year for the Bandits, who play their home games at Municipal Field. Tickets are just $3, with some games $1 or free depending on sponsorship nights. Concessions will include brats for the first time in several years, as well.
The Bandits will remain only a provisional member of the Wisconsin State League. Team president Jim Kaufmann said it’s a year-by-year decision whether the team wants to rejoin as an active member, which includes many more games, including weekend doubleheaders and overnight travel.
“For one thing, it’s too expensive, and we haven’t had the talent level of player,” said Kaufmann. “We’re going to stay where we are, build up a good nucleus of local players, build a good following and put a good product on the field. Then it’s up to the players. If they want to go back into it, they will.”
The team had just two practices prior to Wednesday’s season opener; one was two-plus weeks ago, the other was Tuesday.
Brewer says there will be a feeling-out period, but expects the team to be competitive. They players are certainly excited to get going.
“We’re ready to go, the guys are pretty eager,” he said.