There has long been a strong sense of support, of community pride, for the Holmen American Legion Post 284 baseball team.
This was evident in the Class AA Legion state championship game when Holmen Post 284 battled Antigo Sunday in Merrill, Wis. Antigo is 28 miles away from Merrill, an easy 30-minute commute down Hwy. 64, essentially making it a home game for Antigo. That wasn’t the case, however, as Holmen Post 284 fans outnumbered Antigo fans three-to-one, Holmen Post 284 coach Charlie Alexander said.
That fan support helped Holmen Post 284 take home the Class AA state title with a 6-2 victory over Antigo, therefore sending it to the American Legion Central Plains Division 2 National Regional in Wahpeton, N.D.
How big is this for Holmen?
Nancy Proctor, Holmen village president, announced on Monday that the entire week would be ‘State Champion Holmen Post 284 Baseball Week.’
And when the team left Wednesday morning for the six-hour trek to Wahpeton, they did so via a police and firetruck escort.
“The guys thought it was really cool and it was,” Alexander said. “We had people at village hall waving at us, 50-60 people at the middle school parking lot, and people were coming out of buildings to wave. It was so cool.”
The community support for Holmen Post 284 baseball has been strong for some time.
“On Saturday we did a cookout. We went out and bought brats at the grocery store and grilled out,” Alexander said. “We must have had 75 people at the parking lot. There was brothers, sisters, grandmas and grandpas, high school kids, a lot of people I didn’t even know. I had to ask who they were and they would tell me ‘her son played little league with these kids.’ It was really cool.
“People are coming up to the guys and talking to them and then they tell me, ‘Coach, I don’t even know who that was.’”
Holmen Legion’s run to the National Regional may have come as a surprise to some. During the spring high school season, the Vikings struggled to a 12-14 regular season record with a 4-8 mark in MVC play. Early on, however, Alexander saw a different attitude with this group.
“This group this summer has made a full commitment to each other,” Alexander said. “I don’t want to say it wasn’t there in the spring, but I know it is there now. They are willing to the do the sacrifice bunt, they are willing to look at the big picture and what’s best for the team and not the individual.”
Part of that commitment could be linked to the return of Hunter DeSmet. The Upper Iowa commit missed the spring season after he tore his ACL during a pickup basketball game at the YMCA in December. He has come back and made a few key spot starts. That, Alexander said, has been a key as has been the play of the team’s four other seniors.
“The five seniors that we have really made a commitment this summer,” Alexander said. “They have led by example.”
The commitment is team-wide, as even the players who also play football have remained with the Legion team. According to Alexander, Post 284 has nine football players that all made the trip despite this being the first week of high school football practice. That includes Drew Becker, who is pegged as the Vikings’ starting tailback this fall. Holmen football coach Travis Kowalski understands the significance of what the Legion team has done, Alexander said, and supported their decision to continue playing baseball for a few more days.
“Coach Kowalski has been really good and is really excited for the guys,” Alexander said. “He talked with the guys and he identified that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime moment for these guys, so he was very understanding (about missing football practice).”
Holmen Post 284 (25-7) will play the host team, Wahpeton, at 7:30 today to kick off the tournament. Wahpeton (23-11) earned an automatic bid as they had won the North Dakota state title two of the past three years. Holmen Post 284 respects Wahpeton, but isn’t intimidated, Alexander said. In fact, Holmen Post 284 has a more pressing issue to deal with.
“The guys aren’t used to this and they all forgot their dorm room numbers right away. So that’s what we are dealing with right now,” Alexander said of the team’s arrival at North Dakota School of Science.
Once they find their rooms, Holmen Post 284 could be there until Sunday if they keep winning in the double-elimination tournament.