The Eau Claire Babe Ruth baseball program is one of the most successful – if not the most successful – in Wisconsin.
There are several reasons. A major one is the streamlined two-field facility on Mt. Simon, maintained to near perfection by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Eau Claire has been host to state and regional tournaments through the years, including this summer.
Another is the leadership. President Nathan Kilness took over in recent years from step-father Mark Ryser but has been with the program for 23 years. That’s a constant.
You can also credit the volunteer coaches and of course, the players from a tradition-rich baseball city.
Success. You bet. The Eau Claire 15-year-olds won state for the third year in a row. The 13-year-olds were runner-up in the Ohio Valley regional.
Overall, there were 121 players on 10 traveling teams in the three age groups and 206 participated on 16 teams in league play.
“We keep as many kids as possible and try not to cut anyone,” Kilness said. “We try to give every kid a chance to play in the leagues and traveling teams.”
Kilness said the program has been dealing with play-for-pay academies, which have affected many youth sports.
“Our numbers have been fairly steady though the years,” Kilness said. “We’ve had to make some changes due to conditions in the state but we’ve kept it modest. We charge around $200 for a kid to play the summer while some of the academies charge up to $2,000.”
And it works. Look at the scoreboard.
The 15-year-olds won the state championship for a record third year in a row and advanced to the Ohio Valley Regional at Mt. Simon, losing in the semifinals to Schereville, Ind., in a 17-4 season.
The roster included Cole Bakkum, Ashton Crowell, Jonah Hanson, Eric Kragness, Alex Leis, Andrew Milner, Tyler Mooney, Aidan Peterson, Roscoe Rennock, Ethan Sydow, Will Thibodeau, Camden Trautlein, Henry Wilkinson and Evan Zachow. They were coached by Jordan Wilson, Tyler Hermann and Kole Lekvin, all former high school stars now with the Cavaliers.
The 13-year-olds placed second in the state and advanced to the Ohio Valley Regional, where they lost to state champion Janesville in the championship game in a 17-11 season.
The team featured Brayden Albee, Giovanni Basile, Kaleb Bruesewitz, Tyler Burhop, Alex Ciulla, Ryne Hull, Lucas Johnson, Sam Knickerbocker, Chase Kostka, Coye O’Keefe, Thomas Perkins, Elijah Rathke, Kellen Smith and Carter Veith. Coaches were Jared Jarvensivu and Chad Veith.
And there is hardly an offseason. Unless the snow gets too deep.
“We are currently in the middle of our Fall league season that has 125 players participating from 11 different communities in the Chippewa Valley,” said Kilness, who also serves as an assistant coach at UW-Stout.
Travel team tryouts for the 2020 season will be held on August 18.