BEMIDJI, Minn. - Bemidji State baseball is in final preparations for its 54th season of competition, which gets underway with an 11-game swing through Kansas and Missouri beginning March 5. The Beavers, who earlier this week were picked to finish sixth in the eight-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in a preseason vote of the league’s coaches, will enter the 2005 campaign with high expectations and depth, experience and talent at all positions.
“This is the most-talented team we have had in my five years here, and if we play up to our potential we could be scary,” third-year head coach Chris Brown said. “We have a solid core of guys returning who had significant playing time last year. I expect big things from these guys, and the players expect big things as well.”
Offensively, Brown will field a lineup which will be deeper than in previous years and have the ability to consistently put the ball in play and run soundly on the bases.
“We have a lot of gap-to-gap hitters who run pretty well and play smart baseball,” Brown said. “We won’t have to depend on one or two guys for run production as we have in the past, but will build on the philosophy of consistent offense from top to bottom.”
Junior Tony Klaers (Elk River, Minn.) was named a “Player to Watch” by the NSIC coaches in this year’s preseason polling, and is expected to lead the charge for the Beaver offense in 2005.
“Tony is our most-consistent hitter and has shown the ability to play multiple positions,” Brown said. “He will start at first or third base for us and will also be in the mix at designated hitter. He can hit to all fields and hit with power, and will be a major run-producer for us this season.”
Matt Middendorf (Jr., Sauk Centre, Minn.), Jared Podraza (Sr., Carter Lake, Iowa) and John Grindeland (Jr., Moorhead, Minn.) will also provide leadership on offense. Middendorf will be the team’s starter at shortstop and is perhaps the team’s most athletic player. Podraza will start at center and is expected to be the team’s vocal leader on the diamond. Grindeland will bat near the top of BSU’s order as the everyday starter at second base, where he has shown a knack for making the spectacular play.
Klaers and Podraza are the only two qualifying hitters who return averages of higher than .300 from a year ago. Klaers hit a team-leading .360, while Podraza checked in at .306 and was third on the team with nine doubles.
Even with the team’s balance on offense, Brown expects defense to be the strength of the squad. The Beavers have a solid corps of returning players and are balanced with eight right-handed hurlers and six lefties. Brown has more depth on the mound than in any of his previous four seasons with the program as a graduate assistant or head coach.
The pitching staff will be led by a trio of sophomores, Chad Schwegel (St. Cloud, Minn.), Bryant Salamone (Rockford, Ill.) and Josh Langlie (Thief River Falls, Minn.). The threesome combined to earn five of BSU’s 14 victories in 2004. Schwegel and Salamone are expected to eat up significant innings as starters, while Langlie will serve as a starter, provide help out of the bullpen and also potentially compete for playing time in the outfield.
“We have more experience on the mound than we’ve had in awhille,” Brown said. “I expect pitching to be one of our strengths, which fits with my philosophy that good pitching beats good hitting any day.”
Veteran lefty Dave Zothman (Laporte, Minn.), one of just four seniors on the roster and will provide the pitching staff with consistency and experience out of the bullpen. The Beavers will also look to newcomers Eddie Johnson (Fr-TR; Bemidji, Minn./North Dakota State) and Chuck Erlandson (Jr-TR; Moorhead, Minn./Hutchinson (Kan.) CC) and the familiar face of Nate Heim (Sr.; Kelliher, Minn.).
Johnson returns to Bemidji after a successful prep career and a stint in junior hockey. Brown expects him to compete for significant time on the hill and could also be looked to as a potential contributor in the outfield. Erlandson “has the potential to dominate,” according to Brown and like Johnson could also see action in the outfield.
Heim, tabbed an NSIC “Player to Watch” by the league’s coaches in the 2005 preseason coaches poll, has been away from BSU since 2002 while his Minnesota National Guard unit served in Iraq. Heim was Honorable-Mention All-NSIC in 2002 after finishing 4-1 as a relief pitcher with a team-leading 4.42 ERA, including a complete-game victory over Minn.-Morris in which he allowed just one run on two hits.
“We are excited to have Nate back with us,” Brown said. “He was a big part of our 2002 team which was the No. 1 seed in the NSIC Tournament. He will be our ace going into the season and he will bring us leadership ability and the desire to work hard and win.”
The Beavers are in their third season under head coach Chris Brown. Brown has posted a 29-61 record at BSU, but is 22-28 in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play with back-to-back 11-win seasons. Brown is the first coach in BSU history to win 10 or more conference games in consecutive seasons.