EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in our ‘Welcome To The League’ series, which profiles young players across the South Central League and their adjustments to amateur baseball
MENNO — Logan Klaudt caught himself staring.
He was on the same field as Macon Oplinger.
He was wearing the same uniform as Macon Oplinger.
He was on the same team as Macon Oplinger.
‘Is this real?’, Klaudt remembers thinking during a preseason practice with the Menno Mad Frogs amateur baseball team.
It sure is.
Klaudt, a 19-year-old newcomer to the Mad Frogs, is a teammate of someone like Oplinger, a former Menno High School standout who is nearly a decade older than Klaudt — himself a 2019 Menno High School graduate.
“I’d be watching guys play catch, and I remember when I was younger, and if Macon was on the mound, I’d think, ‘Wow, he’s good,’” Klaudt said.
They’re now teammates.
“Now I get to play with him, so it’s cool to see a guy like that up close,” Klaudt added before Sunday’s home game against Dimock-Emery.
Klaudt isn’t alone, though.
He is one of three amateur baseball rookies on the Mad Frogs roster this summer, along with fellow Menno High School graduates Hunter Huber and Kyle Munkvold.
They’ve provided additional depth to a Menno squad filled with veterans such as Tom Sattler, Doug Hall, Tyler Miller, Tate Bruckner, and yes, Oplinger.
“I just like enjoy playing baseball and being around the guys,” the 20-year-old Huber, a 2018 Menno graduate, said near the batting cage before Sunday’s game.
“It gives me something to do besides work all the time,” he added, with a smile.
Each of the three newcomers previously played American Legion baseball (with Menno in 2018, but Menno didn’t field a team last summer), but their paths separated a year ago.
In Munkvold’s case, he was away from the game entirely last year.
“I heard that Logan and Hunter decided to play, along with some of our other buddies, so I thought I’d try it again and see how it goes,” the 19-year-old said.
— — —
On the one hand, yes, baseball is baseball, but no amount of legion experience can truly prepare a player for amateur baseball.
Menno’s rookies would be the first to admit.
“I played legions two or three years before this, so I felt pretty comfortable with it, but it’s a little faster pace, in my opinion,” Huber said.
Yes, amateur baseball is certainly a more relaxed atmosphere, but there’s also plenty more to keep in mind during the course of a game, according to Klaudt.
For starters, there’s a wood bat — rather than aluminum, like in legions.
“I’m playing with guys who are older than me, with more experience, so they’re teaching you things like how to hit a curveball to right field,” Klaudt said.
That’s also part of the adjustment to amateur baseball: The pitching.
It’s not so much that the speed of the pitches is faster, it’s that pitchers tend to work the corners more and tend to mix in off-speed pitches with their fastball.
“You see curveballs and a lot of other stuff, so it’s a lot to adjust to,” Munkvold said.
If he stepped up to the plate during a legion game and knew the pitcher on the mound had a decent curveball, Klaudt said he knew he’d see a curveball all the time.
“But these guys mix it up a lot more,” he said.
“You still want to think, ‘See ball, hit ball,’ but now you have to think a little bit more.”
And then there’s the idea that in amateur baseball, the young newcomers are going to stand in against a pitcher with significantly more experience.
“It’s definitely different,” Klaudt said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s scary or anything, because I can come back to the dugout and there are guys in their 30s. And they’re not all that scary.”
That’s where amateur baseball can provide a young player with a different kind of perspective and camaraderie, however, according to Munkvold.
“It’s been fun getting back and being part of a team again, and hanging out with everybody,” he said.
“There’s a lot to learn again, but it helps when they’re willing to help a young guy out.”
Follow @jhoeck on Twitter