Honkers vs. St. Cloud Baseball

Rochester Honkers catcher Ryan Wrobleski, who won a state baseball championship with Eden Prairie in 2017, is just 19 years old but has been the Honkers biggest power threat so far this season with three homers, a double, a triple and nine RBIs through 14 games. He played for North Iowa Area Community College this spring, but next year he will play for Division 1 Dallas Baptist.

Honkers catcher has a history of clutch hitting

Ryan Wrobleski won’t always come through with a clutch hit for the Rochester Honkers.It’s baseball, after all, and even the best hitters fail more often than they succeed.

But when Wrobleski comes to the plate with the game on the line, fans should know that the moment will never be too big for him. He’s been there before, on a stage much bigger than Mayo Field — and he came through in a big, big way.

Two years ago, he had just finished his junior year at Eden Prairie High School. The Eagles baseball team had started the season 1-4 but caught fire late and won three section tournament games by one run.

Unseeded in the Class AAAA tournament, Eden Prairie knocked off the No. 1 seed and the No. 4 seed to reach the championship at Target Field against No. 2 seed Forest Lake.

A hit to remember

In the fourth inning, with Forest Lake up 1-0, the Eagles loaded the bases with two walks and an error.

Wrobleski stepped into the batter’s box with an opportunity to do something magical and memorable — and he did.

“My first at-bat, their pitcher (Cam Kline) threw me a slider that fooled me, and I struck out looking,” Wrobleski said. “I went into my next at-bat figuring he would throw it again. He happened to hang it, and I got a good piece of it.”

A real good piece of it. Wrobleski hit a drive to left-center that bounced over the 377 sign for a ground-rule double, giving Eden Prairie a 2-1 lead. He eventually came around to score in a four-run inning that gave the Eagles an improbable state championship.

“I really think I blacked out for a while after I got that hit,” Wrobleski said. “From that moment until I scored, I really don’t remember anything. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, especially because we weren’t supposed to be there. We just got hot at the right time.”

That against-all-odds championship has had a lasting impact on Wrobleski. “In situations now when we have a chance to tie the game or take the lead, I have a level of comfort because I know I’ve been there before,” he said. “I never really got nervous on the field, because it’s baseball, it’s just a game, but what happened at Target Field helps me not be too anxious, not try to do too much.”

Another reason Wrobleski is ready for big moments is that he was raised around people who’ve been there, done that. His father played baseball at Notre Dame, where he roomed with Craig Counsell — the current Brewers manager who as a player scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

“We’re friends with the Counsell family, so I was able to talk to him as a young kid, and even now when we go to Brewers games,” Wrobleski said. “I think that’s helped me a lot. Now, I want to be in that big spot, a 3-2 count, bottom of the ninth with two outs. I want to be out there, and I want to succeed.”

So far this summer, Wrobleski has been in a lot of big spots for the Honkers. While he’s hitting just .208 going into Tuesday’s action, nearly every one of his hits have been important. He leads the team in both home runs (3) and RBIs (9), and definitely leads the club in warning-track fly balls.

Honkers manager Thomas Walker loves what he’s seen from Wrobleski so far. “He’s really proven himself in the early part of the season,” he said. “Ryan keeps coming up with the big hit every time we need it.

“He’s been the most consistent power threat in our lineup, and he just keeps rising to the occasion.”

Wrobleski is primarily a catcher, but he’s also made some fine plays in right field where he covers a surprising amount of ground for someone who has spent a lot of time in catcher’s gear.

Walker said that while Wrobleski will move around defensively, he’ll always get his at-bats. “He’ll DH on his days off,” Walker said. “Ryan’s going to hit. He’s gotta be in our lineup. We just can’t take him out of the batting order.”

Dynamic duo

One reason he’ll be in that lineup on a daily basis is to provide some protection for first baseman Tristan Peterson, who has been batting in front of Wrobleski. If the kid from Eden Prairie stops hitting, Peterson won’t see many strikes.

“Tristan had such a good year at New Mexico State this year that people in the Northwoods League already know who he is,” Walker said. “They’ll try to pitch around him, so having a power threat hitting behind him, a guy who seems to get a hit every time they walk Tristan, that’s huge.”

That played out Saturday at Mayo Field in a loss to St. Cloud. Peterson walked in the fifth inning, and Wrobleski hit a ball over the fence, only to have it brought back by a leaping left fielder. Two innings later, Peterson walked again, and this time Wrobleski cleared the wall by plenty for a two-run homer.

So, in the bottom of the ninth with the Honkers trailing by two, the Rox opted to pitch to Peterson, rather than bringing Wrobleski to the plate with the bases loaded. Peterson crushed a fastball off the wall in left-center for an RBI double that was inches shy of being a walk-off homer.

Up to Division 1

Peterson and Wrobleski should be a formidable duo for the rest of the summer, but when it’s over, Wrobleski will begin another new-and-exciting chapter of his baseball life. Having played just one injury-shortened season at North Iowa Area Community College, he’s making the big leap to perennial Division 1 baseball powerhouse Dallas Baptist University.

That’s the school that has produced big-leaguers Noah Syndergaard, Freddy Sanchez, Ben Zobrist and former Twin Lew Ford.

“NIACC was the perfect place for me last year,” Wrobleski said. “It’s all baseball, all the time there, and it was a really big learning year for me. I love playing there, I love the coaching staff, but the opportunity to play at Dallas Baptist is a dream I can’t pass up.”

A dream — and a huge step up for a 19-year-old. “Every player there is really talented,” he said, “but they also have that grinder mentality. They all want to play professional baseball. They create professional hitters at Dallas Baptist, and that’s what I want to be.”

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Outdoors & Sports Reporter

Eric is the Post Bulletin outdoors editor and also is a sports reporter and columnist. He has a master's degree in American literature from the University of Kentucky and began working at the Post Bulletin in 2000. He’s an avid hunter and angler.