HIBBING — Last year, Hibbing amateur baseball manager Jamie Steinberg was given the option to play, but due to COVID-19, the Miners mentor turned down the opportunity.
The season was going to start at the end of June or beginning of July, and Steinberg didn’t think it was worth the effort to play for one month. He shut down the operation, hoping for better times in 2021.
It was worth the wait.
Hibbing will open its amateur season on Sunday, traveling to East Bethel for a 1 p.m., then they will head to St. Francis for a 4 p.m. contest as things are starting to improve around the state.
For Steinberg, it was an easy decision to make last year.
“It had a lot to do with the intangibles, like finances,” Steinberg said. “There would have been an issue of guys willing to play, and there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes, especially with a baseball field that was closed.
“We walked away from the season. It would have been difficult to make a one-month season work. I didn’t want to play for one month. Neither did the rest of the guys.”
One year later, the pull of the game is starting to take a grip on Steinberg and the team he has assembled this season.
“Once you get used to something, you need to get back into a routine again,” Steinberg said. “It’s an uneasy feeling knowing you haven’t played in a while, but it should come back to us quickly, just like riding a bike.
“I know they’re itchy and ready to get going.”
Steinberg didn’t have a problem getting players.
“Coming out of COVID, some guys have stuck with it, but some have dropped off” he said. “I have others who were ready to step up in the wings ready to play. I’ve never had a backup full of guys before.
“I’ll take it. I’m happy there’s an interest level. That makes it easy for me. They’re trying to get back to some kind of normalcy.”
As for his roster, Steinberg has some returning pitchers in Dan Wood and Matt Erickson.
“They’re at the top of the list as our most-important returners,” Steinberg said. “We’ve also added three or four guys to the mix.”
One of those pitchers is Yazneil Santiago, who played at Hibbing Community College two years ago.
He’ll be joined by John Wengenroth, who played Class A ball with the Minnesota Cobras, Cesar Dominguez, who was at Itasca Community College, Eli Sundquist, who will be playing with the Duluth Huskies this summer, but he will join the team after that season is over and Codeih Powers, who was a Cardinal this past season.
Defensively, the Miners will be tough behind the plate with Joe Lescarbeau and Jaiman Lamphere.
The rest of the defense will undergo some changes.
“It’ll be shaken up a little bit,” Steinberg said. “We’ll have a young shortstop, but that’s nothing new for us. We turn over young shortstops. To have one at that age has been good for us.”
That player is Noah Vinopal. In the outfield, Eli Tintor will make a return to the diamond.
“He’ll be the anchor of the outfield,” Steinberg said. “He’s going to add a relaxing atmosphere for us. He wants to have fun playing ball. He’ll also add an excitement factor to the other guys that play with him.
“He should motivate the other guys on the team. He’s had professional experience, and guys gravitate to that. He’s an excellent guy, and he will hit for us. That’s what we need because our outfield has some question marks this year.”
Offensively, Steinberg said he has a mix of everything.
“We’ll have speed and power,” he said. “We’re going to be similar to a couple of years ago. It took the entire lineup to get the job done, not one or two guys. That’s going to be important going into this year.
“It’ll be a matter of putting them in the right order. That will be the key.”
Steinberg said his team is in the Eastern Minny North Division, and his team will be playing more home games than in 2019.
He will be getting help from co-coaches Adam Schafer and Zakk Bandemer.
“It’ll be nice having those guys to bounce things off of,” Steinberg said. “They will help plan out lineups and deal with strategy during games. It’ll take the weight off of my shoulder, especially if I’m playing.”
Hibbing will open at home on Saturday, June 12, taking on both Ramsey and Chisago Lakes.