RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- As kids ran the bases following the River Falls Fighting Fish’s St. Croix Valley Baseball League opener against the Plum City Blues Friday night, July 3, a mouse ran up Fish infielder Lucas Luedtke’s leg.
Kids running the bases has been a post-game hallmark of Fighting Fish games since First National Bank of River Falls Field opened in 2014. The mouse? Not so much.
“Someone said, ‘Look there’s a mouse!’” Luedtke said. “He was right at my feet and he just ran up my leg and sat on my shoulder.”
It was just the beginning of what Hudson River Rats manager Chris LaBreche said will be a “bizarre season” for the SCVBL.
The league is taking all the precautions it can to safely play games in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, including encouraging social distancing in the stands, refraining from handshakes and high-fives on the field and prohibiting team water coolers and shared drinking stations in the dugout. Any player, fan or worker who exhibits symptoms, or has an immediate family member or roommate with symptoms, is being told to stay home, and if a player does contract COVID-19, he and every other player in that game will not be able to play for two weeks.
“It’s good to be out,” LaBreche said after the River Rats dropped their SCVBL opener, 6-5, at Menomonie last Wednesday. “But I’m just hoping we can get through it. Since basically the third week in March we’ve just been looking in two-week stretches; how are we going to do this? What are we going to do? I’m optimistic, but it’s a bizarre year.”
Fighting Fish player-manager Josh Eidem also said it felt good to begin league play after the Fish’s 4-1 victory over Plum City Friday, despite the players being a little rusty.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who are frustrated with their swings and I said, hey for you college guys this is February,” Eidem explained. “You have to remember in a short season it’s easy for them to press. So we’re kind of battling through some of that, but it’s just fun to be able to play baseball again.”
MSU-Mankato teammates Carter Elliott and Ty Denzer were in midseason form Friday night, with Elliott going 4-for-4 with an RBI and run scored and Denzer adding two hits, including a triple, and two runs scored. Luedtke contributed a pair of run-scoring sacrifices while Trey Larson had three hits and scored a run.
Eidem said the lefthanded tandem of Weston Lombard and Kyle Fritz were solid on the mound, combining for 17 strikeouts with just three walks between them.
“Fritz and Lombard are our horses,” Eidem said. “So to be able to have just one league game this week and throw them both was fortunate.”
With the SCVBL schedule consisting of nine games in 30 days, Eidem said every game will count as teams jockey for seeding position for the league tournament scheduled for Aug. 5-9 in River Falls.
“We want to finish in the top six because the bottom four for the playoff bracket have a play-in game,” he said. “I’ve always said baseball should not be a single elimination sport so we want to just avoid that situation.”
He said it will also be nice to have the league tournament in River Falls.
“So that when you’re in a double elimination here and you lose a game and you have to play later that day, you can go home and get your own air conditioning,” he said with a smile. “So there’s some advantages.”
River Rats lose in walk-off
Hudson rallied for five runs in the final two innings to tie the score in its SCVBL opener at Menomonie Wednesday but couldn’t get over the hump as the Eagles pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth to walk off with a 6-5 win.
“We left a lot of guys on base, especially early,” LaBreche said. “It would have been nice to get a win but it’s hard to win in Menomonie.”
LaBreche said he saw plenty of bright spots, including from rookie pitcher Owen Anderson and veteran Sam Glade. Glade worked the first four innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits while Anderson, who will be a senior at Hudson High school in the fall, gave up one earned run on three hits in three innings of relief.
“He is the real deal,” LaBreche said about Anderson. “That was nice to see. And Sam Glade came back and had a nice four innings.”
Luke LeMay led Hudson at the plate with two hits, including a three-run double in the top of the ninth to tie the score.
Millers open league play Friday
The New Richmond Millers will kick off their SCVBL schedule when they host the Ellsworth Hubbers this Friday, July 10, at 7:30 p.m. at Citizens Field before visiting the Elmwood Expos for a 1 p.m. game Sunday July 12.
River Falls meanwhile will host a pair of league games this weekend, against the Prescott Pirates Saturday at 7 p.m. and the Spring Valley Hawks Sunday at 1 p.m., while Hudson will visit Plum City for an afternoon game Saturday, July 11. The River Rats and Fighting Fish are scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. at First National Bank of River Falls Field.