For the first time since he was in grade school, Kyle Crocker didn’t play in a baseball game this spring.
The former Brainerd High School three-sport standout was a red-shirt infielder at the University of Minnesota and that’s why he’s itching to play games again, as a member of the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers, who open their Northwoods League season Wednesday night at home against the Alexandria Beetles.
“I’m excited for it,” Crocker said of playing in front of Brainerd fans. “Hopefully we’ll get a lot of people out to support us.”
Crocker said he’s tentatively slated to start at second or third base for the Lunkers as he sharpens his skills before returning to Minnesota in the fall.
“(Lunkers field manager Ryan Levendoski) called me a week or two ago and said that I would start out playing second base,” Crocker said, “and if there’s an opportunity to play third base, maybe I will, maybe I wont. We’ll just play it by ear.”
Levendoski expects to give Crocker plenty of at bats to prepare him for Big Ten baseball.
“Our expectations are for him to get reps at second and third base, and possibly outfield,” Levendoski said. “One of his biggest assets is he’s a pretty good hitter. In talking to (Gophers assistant coach) Rob Fornasiere and (head coach) John Anderson they said he just needs to work on refining his skills. We just want to get him in shape so he goes back to school ready to play.”
Wood bats and long bus rides are two things Crocker will encounter in the Northwoods League, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“The past couple summers I played with the Brainerd Bees, that’s a wood bat league,” he said, “so I got pretty comfortable hitting with wood. And, we hit with wood all fall down at the U. It’s a big change from metal, but I like it.
“Bus rides always get long and boring, but if you’ve got something to do, keep busy, maybe sleep, you should be all right.”
As a red-shirt, Crocker practiced with the Gophers, but did not travel or play in games.
“I did everything with the team, except travel, so for home games I would dress and take infield,” he said.
When the Metrodome collapsed Dec. 12, 2010, the Gophers were forced to cancel 12 scheduled games. Fortunately, the Twins offered the use of Target Field being the Twins were out of town on those dates.
“It was pretty big because that’s our home field,” Crocker said of the dome collapse. “We struggled to try to find games and get games in. A lot of games got canceled.
“Target Field was great. (The Twins) let us play there. A lot of games got canceled on the road too because of the weather. It was just a weird year in general. We lost a lot of games, but we got a lot in, too.”
Crocker said he didn’t have an exit interview with Anderson following the season, but they talked by phone about his future.
“He said to get some at bats this summer, come back in the fall and we’ll start your career here,” Crocker said.
“The last half of the year I was working out at third base, but the third baseman there is pretty good,” he added. “If he’s still there, then he gets the nod. I’ll just keep working hard in practice and hopefully good things will happen.”
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.