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I must apologize, but I’ve spent far too much time living with the Duluth Dukes representing Duluth as a minor league baseball team, so even though I know the team is no longer the Dukes, but the Duluth Huskies, in the Northwoods League, I tend to slip and call them the Dukes.
The Northwoods League is an entertaining place for the nation’s top college prospects and stars to spend their summer, sharpening their talents in a mostly low-key, low-pressure attitude. Not that the games aren’t competitive -- the players hustle and execute, and they hit and pitch, knowing this league not only will help them next season with their various college teams, but could help them toward the possible future as a pro player.
The fans come and go, and Wade Stadium remains a great place to watch a ballgame. And the Huskies have an intriguing team. After making a strange run through the first half, winning much of the time, but occasionally lapsing into a couple losing streaks, they finished the first half strongly.
When the second half of the league began, the Huskies started where they’d left off. They lost an 11-5 game to the St. Cloud Rox, but even in that game, after yielding an uncharacteristic 7-run third inning to the visitors, the Huskies came back from a 9-1 deficit and challenged the Rox to the finish.
Then they hit the road for Alexandria, where they swept 4-1 and 5-3 victories, and improved to 4-1, second in the North Division. One of the best things about the league is that teams have abundant players, and they can rotate players in and out readily. Also, homestands tend to be short, so teams can play four games, or even two, and hit the road again. So fans know they won’t be gone for 10 days, but will return promptly.
Among prominent prospects on this year’s Huskies, Florida Southern seems to be the prime source. Keith Curcio is second in league batting average with a scorching .389 average. He has 20 RBIs and seven doubles. He’s from Florida Southern, and so is Conor Szczerba, who transfered in for this past season after starting out at Polk State College. Pitcher Nate Carter is among the league leaders with five victories, while teammate Clay Chapman has recorded 38 strikeouts and sports a 1.66 earned run average.
Michael Suiter is at Kansas, where he hit .309 this past season, with 29 RBIs, and he is hitting .282 with 40 hits and 17 RBIs for the Huskies.
As with baseball everywhere, being in contention for the championship is always a plus, but also, each game has its own entertainment value. The Huskies are in that category, with some good-looking prospects from the area, as well as from all around the country. It would be nice to have a little genuine summer, however, just so those guys from Florida Southern don’t get the wrong impression.
The Twins will be well-represented at next week’s Major League All-Star game in New York, with catcher Joe Mauer starting, and reliever Glen Perkins also on the team. But there also are seven more Twins involved -- if you’re willing to consider former Twins.
Michael Cuddyer, one of the hottest hitters in the Majors right now at Colorado, is one, and will be joined by Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee, and Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers. It gives you cause for pondering to consider where the Twins might be right now with those three as the starting outfield. Also, shortstop J.J. Hardy, designated hitter David Ortiz, and relief pitchers Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan will be in the All-Star game.
We wish them all well in the game, which, in case you haven’t followed it closely, is no longer a tense battle to win at all costs, but an extravaganza in which both sides try to make sure and get all the players into the game.