Column: Knowles having solid summer in the Badlands

Former New Ulm Cathedral and current University of Minnesota Gophers baseball player Gabe Knowles has been having a good summer of baseball so far with the Badlands Big Sticks located in Dickinson, North Dakota of the Expedition League.

The Big Sticks were in second place of the Lewis Division, 4 1/2 games behind first-place Sioux Valley and were in Pierre, South Dakota Friday for the beginning of a three-game series.

As of Friday, Knowles, who is playing center field, was hitting .359 with four doubles, one triple and two home runs along with 17 RBIs.

“Things are going pretty well,” Knowles said Friday. “I did not really know what to expect with this brand-new summer league. The atmosphere’s are fun, the competition is good. Overall I have been having a pretty fun summer.”

Knowles, a red-shirt freshman at Minnesota, said that it took him two or three games to find the groove because he did not play a lot this year for the Gophers as a freshman.

“I came in pretty cold (to Dickinson), but it is as simple as remembering what your college coaches have told you at school,” he said. “You need to bring that into the summer. The rest takes care of itself.”

When asked if it was bitter-sweet watching the Gophers get to a Super Regional before losing to eventual National Champion Oregon State, he said it was hard.

“But it also motivated me more than anything to get back to that same spot this coming year. We lost a lot of key parts to the team, but the squad that we have at Minnesota is one of the hardest working group of people that I have ever been around.”

And Knowles brought that hard-work ethic as he was chosen to play in the Expedition League All-Star game.

“That was pretty special,” he said. “Last year I did not play too well in the summer,” he said. “And I did not make it a goal to make the All-Star team — I just wanted to play consistent and remember everything that I have been told at school. It was an honor, but our season is not over yet.”

And it is a long summer season.

“We have an off day at least every other week,” he said. “But it is a lot better than last summer when I only had three off days. But the reason that college coaches sent players to summer leagues is because if you want to play baseball past college, you are going to have to get used to playing that many games.

“Next year with the Gophers, I need to stay within myself and not do to much at the plate,” Knowles said. “I need to be able to hit off-speed pitches consistently, Coach (John) Anderson told me that I will probably be playing left field next season or the DH spot is open. We will be a young hitting team next year, but I am not to worried about our pitching.”

When asked if a College World Series berth is a reality next year for the Gophers, Knowles said “I think so.”

LAS VEGAS HAD LONG ROAD TRIP: When Las Vegas lost on Sunday 3-2 to eventual champion Creighton Prep in the semi-finals of the 2018 Upper Midwest Classic, it ended a road trip for the Aces that began June 24 and would cover over 4,000 miles and 13 days.

After the loss, Las Vegas, who usually goes to the Gopher Classic, went back to Las Vegas.

“We were in LaCrosse and Eau Claire, Wisconsin;, Moline and Alton, Illinois; St, Louis; to Rockport, Indiana, Indianapolis, Chicago and now to New Ulm,” Las Vegas coach and former New Ulmite Paul Buboltz said. “We put about 4,000 miles on the van.”

And as far as hotel living goes, Buboltz said that until July 4, the team had stayed in a different hotel room every night.

He said while it is a tough stretch, every player on the Aces has aspirations of doing this at the next level and some beyond that.

“It is a trip where the players make some lifetime memories.”

Buboltz said that the Aces’ team is essentially the Desert Oasis High School baseball team that Buboltz also coaches.

He said that they start baseball right after Labor Day and do a lot of traveling in the fall.

“We play at least 50 games in the fall and 40 to 50 in the winter and summer and 35 to 40 in the spring,” Buboltz said. “We have 65-70 games scheduled this summer, so these guys play about 150 games a year.”

Despite the large number of games, Buboltz said that they tell the kids that baseball players play baseball. “We have the opportunity to do year-round baseball, so we try and take advantage of it.

“There are some personality conflicts which do happen, but for the most part they all get along good.” Buboltz said.

And when Las Vegas got back home after the Classic?

“We have a college workout when we get back, then play two doubleheaders and then play in a seven-game tournament,” Buboltz said.