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Rochester Honkers set and ready to roll for upcoming season

Honkers eager to unveil a different ballpark experience than years past.

Rochester Honkers, Bismarck Larks
Fans filled the stands at Mayo Field for a baseball game between the Rochester Honkers and the La Crosse Loggers Saturday, July 3, 2021, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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After a long winter, summer is just around the corner, which means one step closer to another season of Rochester Honkers baseball.

It was nearly four months ago, the Honkers unveiled new logos on a frigid January day that kicked off a rebranding effort that the franchise hopes will revitalize it a bit.

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But now the sun is finally shining, the grass is green and the chance for fans to first see that effort comes next Monday, May 30, when the Honkers open the season hosting the Willmar Stingers. First pitch is slated for 6:35 p.m.

"Every year it happens where you're like, 'oh, man, we have plenty of time' and all of a sudden here's opening day," Honkers General Manager Jeremy Aagard said. "But it's cliche to say, it's a labor of love. This is the time of year where it's the most exciting. It's truly putting the finishing touches on everything we've worked for nine months for, and then seeing people come in with smiles on their faces, noticing that we've done some things along with the city parks and rec department to improve their experience every time they come to the ballpark."

Mayo Field saw plenty of fresh coats of paint applied the past few months, as a well as a renovation to the Hart Country Meats suite that has been expanded to hold larger groups. This year, the suite includes a catered meal and beverages with the entree from Rushford's Hart Country Meats.

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Aagard and company hope a little face lift to the ballpark combines with an entertainment schedule that features the likes of former Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Eddie Guardado on opening night and a Fourth of July with a laser light show and free meals for first responders, to provide an event that keeps people coming back.

"Sometimes just a little bit of paint goes a long ways and sometimes we're able to do renovations like the suite, but I think people will see there's an effort in conjunction with the city to continually improve Mayo field," Aagard said. "But at the same time, we're focused really more on the atmosphere and the fan experience, which is completely in our control. And I think that's what fans will notice more than anything when they come out. There's going to be that wow factor of, that's brand new. I haven't seen that before.
"But when the fans first walk in the gate on opening day, they're gonna know that they were welcomed with open arms and we did everything we could to create the best environment and the best feeling for them."

The Honkers also expect a competitive ball club to add to that atmosphere by giving the fans plenty to cheer about.

The Honkers had been teasing a big announcement for a couple of weeks before unveiling a fresh look at a press conference Thursday.

Aagard is excited for a number of players, especially catcher Michael Carico from Davidson College, as well as returners Jack Colette and Carson Stevens. Prior to last weekend, Carico was second across NCAA Division I with a .417 batting average. The sweet swinging lefty also has plenty of pop with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs for the Wildcats.

Stevens, meanwhile, hit .299 in 25 games, while Colette played in 48 games, hitting .229 with a team-best 17 stolen bases and 32 runs scored for the Honkers last season.

One player who is not returning to the Honkers is Rochester native Mac Horvath, who is enjoying a nice sophomore season at the University of North Carolina. Horvath has hit 15 homers and leads the team in walks (37) and runs (50), while playing in all 50 games so far this season for the Tar Heels. Horvath will play in the Cape Cod League this summer after being a big piece for Rochester in 2021 by hitting .287 in 35 games. But when reaching out to UNC about Horvath, the Tar Heels responded by sending three players — including two fellow Minnesotans, Wayzata's Nick Argento and Stillwater's Alex Ritzer.

As of now, they are two of five Minnesotans on the roster.

"It's nice to see that Minnesota flavor coming through here," Aagard said.

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It will be up to first-year manager Andrew Urbistondo how they will all be used. The lively 26-year-old manager is in the middle of a playoff run as an assistant coach at San Joaquin Delta College in California and appears to be a great fit for the Honkers.

"He's ready to get out here," Aagard said with a laugh. "I was texting him and he was like, 'Man, I'm so pumped. I'm so excited. I can't wait.'"

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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