It’s a relatively quick highway ride, almost a home game for them.
So it only makes sense that Michigan State University players would want to spend a few months in Battle Creek playing summer college baseball in the Northwoods League for the Battle Jacks.
There are currently two Spartans on the Battle Creek Battle Jacks roster, with a third in uniform at the start of the season.
MSU’s Adam Berghorst pitched for Battle Creek in a road game in Traverse City on Tuesday with the Spartans’ Dillon Kark in the roster almost daily as the team’s starting third baseman. Gabe Sotres shared catching duties for the Battle Jacks for the first two months of the season before leaving the team to prepare for his collegiate responsibilities.
“I think it really works for us to be in Battle Creek,” Berghorst said. “It’s only a 50 minute drive, we can still train in East Lansing and come here for the games.
“We drive together, share rides, share a room together on the road, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Playing summer college baseball is a way for many players to stay tuned for leagues across the country. Doing this, while being a short drive away, was the bonus.
“They asked us at the start of our season where we wanted to go,” Kark said. “I said I really wanted to go to the Northwoods League, stay close to home so my family could come and watch, and Battle Creek was the perfect place to do that. been great so far.”
The connection also works for the franchise. Before each at-bat, players are announced, along with the name of the college they are playing for. Having someone show up at the plate with a connection to MSU or Western Michigan University, or even some of the Kellogg Community College players who have been on the team, may be of interest to fans.
“Our general manager and our owner have a pretty good connection with the MSU coach, so that’s how it went,” Battle Jacks manager Caleb Lang said. “We like to have local kids in the team if we can, it helps the fans connect a bit more with the team.”
Kark, who was a starter in the infield for MSU last spring as a junior, played in 35 of 42 games for the Battle Jacks, recording 16 RBIs with a .304 on-base percentage.
The 6-foot-7 Berghorst, who split his time with the MSU football team as a tight end and the baseball team as a pitcher, was injured all last spring for the Spartans. He was still in rehab at the start of the Northwoods League season but joined the Battle Jacks in recent weeks and earned his first start ahead of Tuesday’s action with a 2.25 ERA in his limited time. On Tuesday, he allowed an earned run in seven innings, earning a no-decision.
Sotres is no longer a Battle Jack and he is no longer a Spartan. Sotres went to the transfer portal and has since accepted a spot at the University of Michigan and left Battle Creek to begin training in Ann Arbor in recent weeks.
“Yeah, having those guys on the team probably made some MSU fans pretty happy. But now that Michigan has Gabe offered, and he’s going, it’ll probably make those same people unhappy and make other people happy,” Lang said. .
Having a Big Ten school represented will always catch the attention of Battle Jacks fans, especially if it’s Michigan State or Michigan. But it’s not always the main draw.
“There are pros and cons to having players from big schools or small schools. For me, it really doesn’t matter,” Lang said. “It’s more about behavior, personality, wanting to go out and develop. I don’t care if they’re from MSU or Kokomo, I think there’s a lot of parity in this league with good players from all these schools, big and small.. Not much difference.Our all-star, Pat Mills, comes from a small school in Indiana-Kokomo.
Names on training bags or t-shirts during the early days of training may have become part of the conversation as the players got to know each other, but that part quickly faded.
“It was good to come in with a few guys from MSU, it helped us get comfortable. The first week or so all the guys talk about the school we’re from, but after a while , that’s put on the back end and we realize that we’re all playing for Battle Creek and that’s what really matters,” Kark said. “The best part was meeting new guys from other parts of the country. Everyone was really welcoming, had a great time with these guys.”
Contact Bill Broderick at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick.