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Leimbek adjusting to, enjoying being the Redhawks' head man

Former baseball great Shawn Leimbek has taken over as head coach of the American Legion Rochester Redhawks this summer.

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Rochester Redhawks coach Shawn Leimbek watches his team from the dugout on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Winona.
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These are different times for Shawn Leimbek.

It’s a new role for the former Rochester Mayo, Des Moines Area Community College, Iowa State University and Rochester Royals baseball great, and the 46-year-old is adjusting to American Legion baseball circa 2022.

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Leimbek is the first-year head coach of the Rochester Redhawks, Mayo’s summer Legion team. He’d previously been an assistant both in the spring high school and summer Legion seasons under Tom Senne.

This year, he’s grabbed the Redhawks reins. He’s the head man, the first time he’s been in charge of a high school-aged team.

He likes it. Making it even more fun is that he has a son on the team, Mayo senior-to-be Mason Leimbek, the team’s fleet center fielder. Like his dad was, Mason is also a standout hockey player.

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“It’s fun being the guy who makes the decisions,” Shawn Leimbek said. “You make your decision, and if it works, great. If it doesn’t, then you can blame yourself. It’s been a really good experience.”

As for coaching Mason, that’s been no problem for Shawn. He’s helped direct him since Mason was in youth baseball. They have a strong chemistry and it also doesn’t hurt that Mason is a talented athlete.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound incoming senior batted about .400 during the spring high school season. Plus, he can really move, with great range in center field. Mason may never be his dad, who led the Big 12 Conference in batting average (.417) in 1998 as an Iowa State senior and also was named Division I junior college’s top player in 1996 at DMAC when he batted a ridiculous .505. But Mason can definitely play, too.

“It is different coaching Mason, because I probably ask more of him than the other players,” Shawn said. “But he is pretty good with it. We have a good relationship, both on and off the field. As far as coaching, if I’m going to be at the games anyway, I might as well help out (and coach). It’s hard to sit on the sidelines and just watch.”

Leimbek will get a bunch more in-game coaching experience beginning Friday and ending Sunday. His Redhawks, like the Rochester A’s, Patriots and Eagles, are in the annual Firecracker Tournament being played at Rochester high schools Mayo and Century, as well as John Adams Middle School and Rochester Youth Baseball Complex Field No. 4.

The Redhawks lead off at 5 p.m. Friday against Hermantown, at Mayo. The Redhawks are 3-4 overall.

Leimbek knows his team can be formidable, with a pack of high-end players such as Mason, Chase Gasner, Ian Regal, Kyle Prindle and Carson Beavers. But he also knows that his team — like virtually all American Legion teams these days — is unpredictable.

In large part, the unpredictability has to do with a here-today-but-gone-tomorrow phenomenon happening with Legion rosters in the 2020’s. Many of the top high school players augment their baseball schedule by also playing on summer club teams, causing them to miss a chunk of the Legion schedule.

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It’s no different with the Redhawks. Leimbek knows his lineup is going to be depleted during this weekend’s Firecracker Tournament. He’s learning to live with it, though that sure wasn’t the case when he was playing on powerhouse A’s Legion teams in the 1990s.

“When everyone is there, we are near the top of our (First District),” Leimbek said. “But so much of it depends on who is and who isn’t there from game to game. It depends on who’s pitching and who’s playing. That makes it tough. But this will give some of our other kids a chance to compete. If they can have some success, maybe I can find a spot for them. I might find out that there are other guys I can go to.”

Leimbek was a guy who teams depended upon for so many years during his playing days. After high school and college, that included about 15 years spent playing for the amateur Rochester Royals.

Former A’s teammate and current A’s coach Todd Stellmaker has rarely seen a better player than Leimbek. When it came to getting base hits, he was in a league of his own.

“I played with a lot of good players, including Michael Restovich and Chuck Krom, but Shawn was the best pure hitter that I’ve ever played with,” said Stellmaker, who played college baseball at North Dakota State University. “He could hit, and hit better than anyone.”

Those were golden times for Leimbek, playing baseball.

“I loved it,” he said. “And when I played for the (Rochester) Royals, it was awesome. It was the thing to do. The camaraderie in the dugout, that is what I miss most.”

Related Topics: BASEBALLAMERICAN LEGIONROCHESTERMAYO HIGH SCHOOL
Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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