Sabres play ball at U.S. Bank Stadium

by Cori Hilsgen

Imagine being a high-school baseball player and having a chance to play at the U.S. Bank Stadium. The Sartell Sabres team did imagine it and recently had a chance to do exactly that.

The team played at the U.S. Bank Stadium April 4. They and the Moorhead Spuds were the first high-school teams to play at the new stadium this year.

Sartell Coach Jerome Nemanich said they rented the stadium for three hours of playing time – from 12:45-3:45 p.m.

The varsity team currently has 16 players, but Nemanich brought 24 players along for the scrimmage.

“It was a fantastic experience for the kids,” Nemanich said. “I’m glad they enjoyed playing in such an awesome facility. The kids played very well for our first real action of the year. We were sound defensively for 10 innings and it being our first time playing/scrimmaging.”

“That was the coolest experience a high-school player could ever be a part of,” said Alex Kreiling, a senior first baseman/shortstop/pitcher. “Also, to be a part of history at that stadium is something I’ll never forget. I had a blast with all my teammates getting to play the game I love.”

According to a Minnesota High School League article by John Milea, the teams played on artificial turf, including home plate, the base paths, the pitcher’s mound and the mounds in the bullpens on the left- and right-field lines.

The temporary dugouts were metal, rubber-floored and fence-fronted structures. No scoreboard, announcer or video screens were available.

The football lines were still on the field, but additional stripes for base lines, foul lines, batter boxes and base paths were marked.

Between the two teams, 56 players got a chance to get on the field.

The Sartell players played in full uniform while the Moorhead players played in team T-shirts.

Nemanich said the temperature of the stadium was a lot warmer than playing in the Metrodome.

Nemanich and Moorhead Spuds coach Greg Salvevold didn’t know when they signed up to play that they would be the first high-school teams to play this year at the stadium. Nemanich said they just knew they hoped to play there during the third week of practice.

Sartell players raised funds to have the chance to play at the stadium. The cost for each team to play at the stadium is $975 for three hours. Some of the funds are used to pay umpires.

Fans could pay $5 to watch the scrimmage from front-row seats.

Nemanich said the facility is an awesome structure, and the field was an outstanding surface to play on.

Several other players commented on their experience of playing at the stadium.

“I thought our scrimmage at U.S. Bank Stadium was a cool and neat experience,” said sophomore outfielder Ryan Giguere. “It was a privilege to play in such a nice stadium with nice staff. I thought everything was well thought-out and executed well. Overall, it was just really cool to see the (stadium) from a field perspective and getting to run and play there was the cherry on top.”

“Getting to play in a sports venue like U.S. Bank Stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget, ” said sophomore shortstop Riley Ahrndt. “I’ve been to a Vikings game there, but actually being on the field and realizing how big of a stadium U.S. Bank actually is was pretty cool. The atmosphere and the excitement both the players and fans (had), even though there were few, helped to make the experience truly surreal.”

“Playing baseball at such an exquisite environment was an unforgettable experience,” said junior second baseman Dylan DeZurik. ” The stadium was so large and I will never forget the fun time I had playing the sport I love against a great team.”

“To play ball in that type of stadium was absolutely amazing, and to get to do that with my teammates was an unforgettable experience,” said junior outfielder Nathan Shaw.

“To sum it up, it was an experience most won’t have the chance to have,” said senior outfielder Justin Hammerel. “Which in my case, I’m very grateful for the chance to play there. It was eye-opening how big the stadium was from on the field. Definitely an experience I will never forget.”

“It was a privilege to be able to play a baseball game in U.S. Bank Stadium,” said senior first baseman/pitcher Brandon Kramer. “Being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s something I will never forget. To say I played in the same stadium as many NFL stars is really cool. I’m looking forward to our season and hope this is just the beginning of many memories made by our team throughout the season.”

To add to the excitement of the day, the Sartell Senior Connection organized a trip to tour the U.S. Bank Stadium when they learned the Sartell High School baseball team was going to be one of the first high-school teams to scrimmage on the field; 23 seniors toured the stadium and watched the scrimmage.

“What a great experience,” said Ann Doyscher-Domres, Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education program coordinator. “The U.S. Bank Stadium staff was great to work with and watching Sartell baseball was just an extra perk to the day.”

“They still have a baggy,” said senior tourist Gary L. Kraemer, when referring to a covering over the retractable seats in right field.

He said it looks like the baggy from the Metrodome.

“It was a marvelous day,” said another senior tourist Maggie Kraemer. “The bus ride, the U. S. Bank Stadium tour and seeing Sabre Blue on the field. The granite lockers in the spacious Vikings’ locker room were impressive.”

Maggie Kraemer said on the bus she heard several other individuals say they would have liked to have joined the group on the tour but could not because it was at full capacity. She said they’ll consider doing the stadium tour again – without the draw of the baseball team.

The stadium, owned and operated by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, is home to the Minnesota Vikings football team. It’s located in downtown Minneapolis on the previous site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. According to the stadium website, it has 137,000 square feet on the stadium floor, 66,200 seats and six club spaces.

A grand opening was held at the multi-purpose stadium last July and the Minnesota Vikings played the first regular-season game against the Green Bay Packers at the stadium in September.

In 2015, the estimated overall budget for the fixed-roof stadium was $1.061 billion. Of that amount, $348 million is coming from the state of Minnesota, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis and $551 million from the team and private donations.

Upcoming events scheduled at the stadium include Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, the NCAA Final Four in 2019 and the ESPN X Games in 2017 and 2018. U.S. Bank acquired the naming rights to the stadium in a deal worth $220 million for 25 years.

The Sartell Sabres baseball team played its first game on April 12 against Willmar.

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Sartell Sabre baseball player Trent Meyer prepares to run during a scrimmage against the Moorhead Spuds at the U.S. Bank Stadium on April 4.

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Sartell Sabre baseball pitcher Brandon Kramer (front) prepares to throw the ball, while second baseman Jordan Och watches during a scrimmage against the Moorhead Spuds at the U.S. Bank Stadium on April 4.

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The Sartell Sabre baseball team (front row, left to right) Jake Shelonka, Justin Houge, Dylan DeZurik, Nathan Shaw, Hunter Greenwald and Justin Hammerel; (second row) Riley Arndt, Gage Vierzba, Cody Negaard, Jordan Och, Ben Grant and Brody O’Hara; (third row) Cade Negaard and Sam Vogt; (back row) Ryan Giguere, Riley Hartwig, Jared Freeman, Alex Kreiling, Brandan Walz, Brandon Kramer, Isaac Schneider, Dylan Notach, Trent Meyer, Jadon Ludewig, Chris Belling, Nick Koubsjy, Jerome Nemanich and Scott Hentges had a chance to play a scrimmage against the Moorhead Spuds at the U.S. Bank Stadium on April 4.

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Sartell Sabre baseball pitcher Chris Belling swings at a pitch during his turn at-bat.

Cori Hilsgen

Cori Hilsgen

Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
Cori Hilsgen
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