July 13, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
For one more time, Pat Illies appeared on the Elrosa diamond wearing a No. 9 uniform.
Pat, who leads in most Elrosa Saints categories, and his father Duane (1951-1993) were inducted into the Elrosa Baseball Hall of Fame July 7 prior to the eventually rain-halted Elrosa-Meire Grove game in Elrosa.
“It is an honor to be inducted with my dad,” Pat said. “He was my role model. I chose No. 9 because he wore it.”
Saints manager AJ Hadley read through a list of contributions both Duane and Pat made to the Elrosa program. Duane was part of bringing amateur baseball back to Elrosa in the 1960s. He played for a few years, but left his mark more as promoter of the team and field as a coach and, as Pat referenced, a mentor.
Hadley highlighted elements of Pat’s career, from playing when the team struggled to his value as an all-around player and coach, including his 2017 walk-off home run over Regal to send Elrosa to the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Tournament.
“The YouTube video has over 1,000 views,” said Matt Middendorf at the ceremony.
Big hits and walk-off moments were what made Illies special to Elrosa. Middendorf, who played with Pat, spoke of how he led and inspired the team. Middendorf brought out a ham sandwich, a bottle of Mountain Dew, a packet of powdered gravy, a bottle of hard lemonade, a can of Miller Lite and a baseball from a cooler.
Each item represented an element Pat brought to the game. The sandwich, a favorite snack of Pat’s, represented simplicity; Illies knew how to keep the game simple. The Mountain Dew was selected because caffeine gives a jolt, and when needed, Pat always found a way to inspire the team. The gravy came from Pat’s ability to nickname players – one of whom he nicknamed Gravy – and make them feel valued. The hard lemonade was the first non-soda beverage ever offered by a player (Pat) to Middendorf – and to him, it represented that Pat was not above working with and alongside younger players. Middendorf said Pat played various positions, as he saw it as a way to let young players get into the game. Miller Lite was often the beverage shared after games in dugout conversations.
“We talked about baseball, but Pat was really talking about life lessons,” Middendorf said.
The baseball represented Pat’s love and passion of the game. Middendorf said he never saw a game where Pat did not play to win. That included an exhibition game when Pat had all but retired, but because Elrosa was short a player, he stepped onto the field.
“He had four hits,” Middendorf said.
Middendorf concluded his remarks by naming Pat Illies Elrosa’s “Mr. Baseball.”
Pat, in his acceptance speech, thanked his teammates, family and the community for the opportunity. He recalled his mother always having sandwiches ready on gamedays, his wife Abby encouraging him to keep playing and coaching and playing with his children.
“I was lucky and healthy and gifted enough to play,” he said. “I had lifelong friendships and support of my family.”
Elrosa 4, Meire Grove 3
The Saints put themselves into a first-place tie in the Stearns County League North Division, with New Munich, topping Meire Grove 4-3 July 9 in Elrosa. The game was the second of two games Elrosa played and won that day.
The Saints wasted little time taking the lead, scoring three in the first inning. Derek Wiener doubled to score Kevin Kuefler, who had singled, and Blaine Fischer, who had walked. Ashton Dingmann followed with a triple scoring Wiener.
In the second, Jackson Peter singled to score Kuefler. Kuefler had singled before going to second on a hit-and-run groundout by Fischer.
Other than Wiener’s fifth-inning double, that was all the hits Elrosa had. The Saints managed to hang on for the win behind strong pitching from Will VanBeck. VanBeck scattered four hits across seven innings, allowing five baserunners and one run.
Good defense backed up his effort. The team turned a double play and had four 1-2-3 innings. The play of the game was made by outfielder Andrew Weller with a back-to-the-plate running catch.
Wyatt Steffensen earned the save in relief, allowed two unearned runs.
“Our pitching staff has been lights out for the past two weeks,” said Ethan Vogt, pitcher and outfielder. “That’s been the difference. Our bats are not quite going yet, but the pitching staff has given up about five runs in about the last 55 innings.”
Elrosa 5, Lake Henry 0
Vogt did his part July 9, throwing eight innings in a 5-0 win over Lake Henry. He gave up four hits and hit two batters. Vogt and reliever Riley Meyer combined to retire the last nine batters they faced.
Elrosa broke a 0-0 tie with Kuefler’s fifth-inning RBI single. VanBeck, who doubled, scored on the play. Weiner, who had two hits, singled to score Fischer in the seventh.
The Saints iced the game without a hit in the eighth. Matt Schmitz drew a walk and VanBeck and Kuefler were hit by pitches before Fischer walked, forcing in a run. Jacob Walz followed with a sacrifice fly, scoring VanBeck, and Kuefler also scored on a missed throw.
Elrosa’s games this coming weekend will affect the final standings in the SCL North. It hosts New Munich July 14 in Elrosa and travels to Spring Hill July 16.