Titans enjoy summer baseball

Connor+Giusti%2C+left%2C+and+Matt+Shermann%2C+right%2C+stand+alongside+Clinton+LumberKings+General+Manager+Ted+Tornow%2C++a+UWO+alumnus.

Jacob Link

Connor Giusti, left, and Matt Shermann, right, stand alongside Clinton LumberKings General Manager Ted Tornow, a UWO alumnus.

Jacob Link, Sports Editor

While most UW Oshkosh students use summer break as a chance to relax, three Titan baseball players spent their summer playing baseball in two of the most prestigious summer baseball leagues in the country.

UWO infielders Matt Scherrman  and Conor Giusti spent their summer playing for the Clinton LumberKings of the Prospect League, while pitcher LJ Waco spent time with the Green Bay Rockers of the Northwoods League. Waco served as a temporary player while the Rockers waited on players who were still playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Both the Prospect League and Northwoods League are summer collegiate baseball leagues, allowing college players to  improve their game in the offseason while playing against some of the best players from across the country.

Some major league players that have come out of the Prospect league (known as the Central Illinois Collegiate League until 2008) include Kirby Puckett, Dan Quisenberry, Mike Schmidt, Ben Zobrist and head coach of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Matt Erickson.

“If you want to get better, the only way to do that is to play and play against pretty good competition,” Scherrman said. “With the facilities we get here and the food we eat, it’s pretty hard not to get better with how much we play and the opportunity we get.”

The LumberKings, like most other Prospect League teams, feature a mix of players from Division I through junior college. This season, Clinton featured players from every level of college baseball from D1 University of Minnesota to NJCAA Division III Madison College.

Giusti and Scherrman said for them, it’s all about the experience of going from the WIAC to playing with some of the top talent in the country.

“Hearing their stories and hearing what they do to prepare for a game is really cool,” Giusti said. “It’s really neat to play against these guys, seeing what a DI talent is like and knowing we can also compete at this level.”

“You can learn a lot just from other guys on the team,” Scherrman said. “You can learn how they go about different things like how they practice in Division 1 or Junior College and you can pick up on that stuff and get better.”

Both players said they wanted to play summer baseball because they knew it would help them improve their game for when the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) baseball kicks off next spring.

“If you want to be better in the spring you have to sacrifice your time in the offseason,” Scherrman said. “That’s why me and Giusti and hundreds of players across the Midwest are playing during the summer.”

The 2022 Clinton LumberKings season is Scherrman’s second season with the team and Giusti’s first. Last season, Scherrman helped the LumberKings win the second half championship of the Great River Division, but Clinton fell to the Cape Catfish in the Western Conference Championship.

Shermann said he heard about the LumberKings from Titan head coach Kevin Tomasiewicz, who asked Scherrman if he wanted to play summer baseball in Clinton, Iowa.

 “I didn’t know where Clinton, Iowa was, but he gave me a little rundown as it was the first year of Clinton in the Prospect League,” Scherrman said. “I did a little bit of research and I knew I wanted to play travel summer colligate baseball there.” After hearing about Scherrman’s experience with Clinton, Giusti also knew it was the place to be.

“It’s such a great place to get better and get stronger and really experience some great competition that will really help us in the WIAC,” Giusti said.

LumberKings General Manager Ted Tornow may have played a part in the two Titans’ journey to Clinton. Tornow graduated from UW Oshkosh in 1983 and worked in the sports information department at UWO while he was a student. Tornow went on to be the assistant general manager of the Minor League Baseball Memphis Chicks before becoming the general manager of the Clinton LumberKings.

“He always jokes about, ‘we didn’t get you just because you were an Oshkosh guy,’ but I think that played a role in me ending up here the last two summers,” Scherrman said.

Clinton has had many Minor League teams going back to 1937 when they were a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. Franchises came and went, but the LumberKings have remained in Clinton since 1994. The only thing that has changed is that Clinton lost its affiliation with Minor League Baseball in 2020 when the MLB realigned the structure of the Minor Leagues. To continue the long-standing tradition of baseball in Clinton, Tornow and the LumberKings joined the Prospect League.

“I think sometimes the fans still thought we were a minor league team, which is great because they expect us to win,” Scherrman said. “The best part about it is that they’ve had baseball here for forever.”

Scherrman said that the LumberKings have great attendance numbers even though they are no longer a minor league team.

“Our Fourth of July game had just over 5,000 fans and that’s as many as I’ve ever played in front of,” he said. “Clinton loves their baseball whether it’s minor league or college, so to most people it probably doesn’t make a difference …  they’re just happy to have baseball back.”

Giusti said that the LumberKings draw so well because they make baseball fun for all ages.

“I think about every game there’s a little league team and, of course, the regulars that come out to the game,” he said. “It’s awesome; the more people we have, the more energy, it’s easier to get up and play every day if you have fans that care about you guys.”

Both Giusti and Scherrman agreed that the competition they face in the Prospect League is unlike what they face in the WIAC.

“In general, the Prospect League is better top to bottom,” Scherrman said. “You won’t see a bad arm in this league. There’s always a guy behind someone who’s just as good, if not better and everything is just a notch better than the WIAC.”

Both players said they had specific parts of their game they wanted to improve while playing summer baseball.

“One of my goals was to get more innings as a pitcher than I did in the spring and just keep doing what I’m doing offensively,” Scherrman said. “If you’re hot, you stay hot so just keep doing what I’m doing and, on the mound, figure some things out and get back into a groove.”

Giusti said he has been working to get back to where he was as a hitter last summer before he got into a slump that lasted all of spring.

“Definitely with all the coaches here, they’ve been a big help and I’m starting to get back on that path of hitting really good again and just improving every day,” he said.

The Prospect League schedule has teams playing nearly every day from June to August, which gets the players into a daily routine they follow for nearly three months.

“It’s not at all like the WIAC where you have four games in two days and then a break the rest of the week,” Scherrman said. “Here, we play every day, which seems like a lot, but you’re not playing every day because we have other players and the goal is not to beat you down by playing every day, it’s about getting better.”

Giusti said the best part of summer baseball is waking up with no homework or classes to get to.

“It’s nice getting up on your own and lifting throughout the day and getting something to eat and we’re usually at the clubhouse pretty early to hit [batting practice] here and get relaxed for game time,” he said.

Throughout the season, Prospect League teams flip the bill for nearly everything the players need. Players are not paid to play in any summer collegiate baseball leagues in order to maintain NCAA eligibility, but teams are allowed to pay for food and travel costs for the players. Teams also give players a place to live during the season, either with a host family or a hotel room.

“It’s awesome living with a host family,” Giusti said. “The people we live with are unbelievable, they’re super nice and they’ll do anything for us. Getting that bond with your host family is awesome, it’s just like living back at home.”

While the LumberKings may have missed out on the 2022 Prospect League Playoffs, Giusti and Shermann no doubt enjoyed their time with the team. Giusti got out of his slump and finished the season with a .295 batting average, good for third-best on the team. Shermann had the most at-bats on the team, finishing with a .277 batting average and led the team with 36 RBIs.

“There’s no better experience than here in Clinton,” Giusti said. “You don’t get treated better anywhere else in the prospect league than you do in Clinton, Iowa.”