NEW UM - The American Legion Baseball Tournament that started out in 1980 as the Firecracker Tournament celebrated it's 34th year beginning Thursday as the Upper Midwest Classic began play Thursday with two games at Johnson Park and continue Friday with games at Johnson and Mueller Parks in New Ulm along with baseball parks in Essig, Sleepy Eye and Searles as the 20 team tournament rolls into Sunday's championship game.
Sixty-six different legion basball teams have played in the tournament.
The first Firecracker Tournament in 1980 was won by New Ulm Gold with the initial Upper Midwest Classic captured by Lansing,Illinois who took the title from Roseville.
This year's Upper Midwest Classic features four pools of five teams each.
Teams in Pool "A" include New Ulm Gold, Prior Lake, Roseville, Sioux Falls East and Duluth.
Pool "B" has teams from Burnsville, Sioux Falls West, Moorhead, Plover, Wisconsin and Lakeville South.
Kenyon, Chaska, Apple Valley, Creighton, Nebraska and Valley Springs, South Dakota comprise Pool "C"
Pool "D" has Eastview, Post 307 of South Dakota, Wayzata, Sleepy Eye and Pierre, South Dakota.
Here are some thumbnail sketches of some of the teams.
APPLE VALLEY comes in at 7-9 and won the Mankato Tournament over the past weekend. They are led by Andy Ostapowycz who is hitting .434. He is followed by Garrett Ganskie who hit .357. Ganskie was a member of the Century College World Series runnerup team in 2012.
Brady Casperson his hitting .316. Ostapowycz is their top pitcher with a 0.00 ERA. Coach Bruce Young said that he has a youthful team with 13 of his 17 players eligible to return next year.
SLEEPY EYE POST 7 comes in with a 5-0 record. They are led by Brandon Helget who is hitting .444. He is followed by Jordan Anderson who is hitting .412 and Brady Hansen who has a .400 batting average.
John Mangen has a .563 slugging percentage. Mangen also leads the Post 7 pitching staff with a 2-0 record with Anderson posting an ERA of 1.45.
NEW ULM GOLD enters with a 6-4 mark and is led by Drew Pfaff's .458 batting average. Judd Davis is hitting .444 with Grant Kannegiesser hitting .424. Pfaff is 2-0 on the mound.
PIERRE, S.D. comes into their first Upper Midwest Classic with a 12-13 record. Post 8 is led by Blake Dean's 422 batting average and Gage Curtis and his .412 batting average.
Alex Gray has a .623 slugging percentage.
Cash Anderson is Post 8's top pitcher at 2-0 and has a 3.29 ERA.
CREIGHTON PREP is the biggest name coming back to the UMC. Last year Prep finished fourth in the American Legion World Series. Prep enters the tournament with a 28-4 record.
Jason Albery leads Prep with a .482 batting average. Zach Garrett is second with a .385 batting average. Garrett leads the team in RBI with 23 and doubles with eight.
Jake Allen is Prep's top pitcher at 6-0 along with a 1.17 ERA.
Prep has four players who will be playing college baseball next year in Jeff Albrecht (Creighton), McLaine Jones (Rockhurst University), Adam Wilson ( Garden City CC) and Zach Garrett (Augustana) Alex Albery will be playing college basketball next year at St, Thomas.
PRIOR LAKE comes in at 4-4 and are led in hitting by Nick Vaage at .361. Eric Tuse (who will play both baseball and football at St.Olaf next year) is hitting .357. Zach Fraasch (St, John's University next year) is hitting .348. Tony Loeher is the top pitcher with a 3-0 mark and a 2.58 ERA.
BURNSVILLE comes in at 6-2 under coach Greg Nesbitt. Last year the Cobras finished third in the Minnesota State American Legion Baseball Tournament. Burnsville won with UMC in 2005. 206 and again in 2012.Tyler Hill (Truman State), Bo Hellquist and Cooper Maas (UMD) along with Aaron Rozek (Minnesota State-Mankato) and Luke Hansen (ICCC) are back.
DULUTH comes to New Ulm after hosting a 20-team tournament last weekend, They enter with a 3-7-1 mark.
Coach Mark Branovan said tha his team has had a "tough start. We have had some players injured." He said that he has five strong pitchers in Wyatt Irwin, Chris Olson, Jake Turner, Trevor Laasko and Darrin Zwak.
Chris Olson leads the team with a .455 batting average followed by Zwak at .438.
CHASKA hits the Classic with an 11-0 mark.
SIOUX FALLS WEST comes in at 18-13.Last year Post 15 won their pool at the Gopher Classic. Connor Grove who is hitting .390 will be playing college baseball ay Dakota Wesleyan with Seth Peterson (4-1 with a 1.43 ERA) will be pitching at Northwestern University in Orange City, Iowa next year. They have a .312 team batting average.
PLOVER BLACK SOX may well be the team to beat in this year's field.
Last year the Black Sox finished 34-7 and this season they come to New Ulm with a 16-1 record and are ranked number one in Class 3A legion baseball in Wisconsin. Adam Kuck is Post 543's top hitter at .444. He is followed by Mitch Mallek at .400 and Ryan Makuski at .392. Cal Giese is their top pitcher at 3-0 and has an 0.82 ERA. Alex Oliver, Austin Schulfer and Sterling King are all 2-0 on the mound.