America’s pastime has an ardent fan base in the Flathead Valley, and the long-standing rivalry between the Glacier Twins and Kalispell Lakers is as compelling as any high school contest; cross-town foes, black painted under their eyes, battle late into the night under stadium lights for post-season spots and tournament championships.
But the Twins and Lakers will meet one less time this year.
The annual Wood Bat Tournament, hosted by the Twins, will be without the Lakers, which finished second in 2007. The Twins beat the Lakers in the bottom of ninth in last year’s championship when former shortstop Roo Grubb hit a single to knock in the winning run.
Lakers third-year coach Ryan Malmin said his squad will head east this year – instead of returning to the Wood Bat Tournament – to face Eastern AA Legion opponents that they would not otherwise see until the state tournament.
“There were a lot of reasons,” he said. “And we decided to play some other teams that we don’t normally see.”
In 2007, the Lakers, 8-16 in conference, took the season series from the Twins, 11-13 in conference, winning four of six games. Three were in conference play.
Finding a skipper to stay with the team – there have been three in as many years – has been difficult for the Twins. In 2007, Jarod Grubb, who once played as a Legion player for the Lakers, coached the Twins to an 11-13 league mark, after a 2006 season that saw just one conference victory.
The Twins’ new head coach Ryan Hadfield, a graduate student at Eastern Washington University and associate scout for the San Francisco Giants, has been commuting from Spokane until school lets out.
“It’s been a tough spring so far,” Hadfield said last week. “The weather has not allowed us outside as much as we would like, but we are going to crank it into high gear next week.”
Hadfield, 29, played at Wenatchee Valley Community College and was the head coach of the Apple Valley Packers and an assistant coach at both Wenatchee and Eastmount High School in Wenatchee, Wash., before accepting the head coaching position with the Twins.
The team lost the backbone of its infield from a year ago, but Ryan Caron in the infield and Scott Yogodzinski on the mound will both be key contributors this season. Speedy outfielder Scott Palmer, who led the Twins in triples last year, figures to be a workhorse, while Bridger Beech and several A-level players moving up to AA are expected to make an immediate impact.
“We are returning the core of our pitching staff,” Twins assistant Jim Langley said. “We are expecting a lot out of our guys.”
For the Lakers, the team did not have quite the turnover rate in the off-season. They return Austin Roehl and Brian Sneck in the middle infield and Ben Sansaver and Sneck on the mound. “We will have improved athleticism in the infield” and better range and stronger arms to eliminate would-be base hits, Malmin said.
Both the Twins and Lakers will play around 60 games this summer between Legion and tournament play. The Lakers open the year at defending A state champion Mission Valley, while the Twins get things underway this week with its Black and White scrimmage.
“It’s fun,” Malmin, who teaches in Whitefish and coaches in Kalispell, says of teaching students he then coaches against. “With the exception of one of the games (last year) they were all tight intense ballgames.”
Three of the six games went to the bottom of the ninth inning – including last year’s Wood Bat Tournament final.
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