Greyhounds are mix of old and young
The Austin Greyhounds have a rich history in amateur baseball state tournaments with appearances in 13 of its past 16 seasons.
It's been 10 years since its won a state title, however. A streak the team hopes to break this weekend.
"We're a hot team right now, we really have what it takes to win it all," manager Matt Cano said. "We just need to go on a five-game winning streak,"
To win it all, Austin has no margin for error. Losing a 4-2 decision to Shakopee in this year's Class B state tournament opener on Saturday, Austin immediately found itself in the loser's bracket of the double-elimination event.
But the team had won eight straight before Shakopee and a 10-2 shellacking of St. Michael on Sunday has kept the team confident.
"Our team really believes we can win the state championship," Cano said. "But we're also smart enough to know it takes one game at a time."
The first of its five roadblocks to the title is this Friday night, when the Greyounds take on the Eagan Bandits at Maple Lake's Irish Stadium.
Between Cano, 40, the team's manager since 2003, general manager John Frien, 35, and new acquisition Dave Adams, 44, Austin has a plethora of experience and knowledge to draw from.
All three are baseball junkies – you have to be to play amateur baseball for as long as they have. Frien, an Austin lifer, has been with the Greyhounds the longest – joining the team in 1997. Cano grew up in Austin, before playing several years of professional ball and joining the Greyhounds in 2002. Adams was a 19-year-veteran of the Rochester Royals before joining the Hounds in June.
Extra work paid off
Austin has enjoyed success all summer long and brings a 25-10 record into Friday's game. Cano and Frien believe some new players, an improved pitching staff and stronger will to win has made the difference.
Frien believes year's team has been putting in the extra work it takes to be a better ballclub. He said the pitching staff, in particular, has made strides this year. Led by Joe Huffman and Nels Nelson, Frien said his pitchers have routinely worked out together throughout the season.
"[Nelson] and Huffman are our aces, Weston Hanson's pitched a lot more innings, Brian Toov has come along," Frien said. "Then there's Zack Schara, he's kind of a bulldog. He's basically been our closer, another weapon we have."
Cano and Frien believe first baseman Adams, along with Jeremy Williams and the return of Craig Braaten to the Hounds lineup have been key additions to this year's team.
Adams has hit near .400 this season, including a tournament-best .571 average through two games. Braaten, who took last season off to experience fatherhood for the first time, has returned to bring a strong bat to Austin's lineup (Braaten bashed a three-run homer in the St. Michael win). Then there's the energizer – Williams.
"Williams is a dynamite player," Frien said of his 23-year-old centerfielder. "[He's] built like Adrian Peterson. Still a young buck; a big, strong guy."
Grooming future 'Hounds
Cano and Frien are passionate about the future of Austin baseball. They talk about grooming players like Williams, Nick Huntley (a legion standout) and players as young as Jordan Hart, a 16-year-old from Lyles, to take the Greyhounds in the future.
But for Austin natives and longtime Greyhounds veterans Cano and Frien, along with Adams, their time is now.
The trio has the spirit, knowledge and wisdom to coach the game for years to come. As players, the team's elder statesmen have a chance to lead their team to a title this weekend.