St. Peter, Minn. - A little more than two weeks ago, Gustavus Adolphus junior to-be Grant Soderberg (Eden Prairie, Minn.) was playing town team baseball for the Minneapolis Lakers, a team for which he had logged over 50 innings on the hill this summer. Through a series of calls and connections within the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Grant was contacted by the front office of the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League.
“The Chinooks called me at work and asked if I was interested in joining the team for the last two weeks of the regular season and possibly the playoffs,” said Soderberg. ”They had lost a couple players due to injuries and needed a couple pitchers for the playoff push. It was a pretty easy decision but I talked it over with my family and shipped out to join the team shortly after.”
Grant arrived in Mequon, Wis. on Thursday, Aug. 1st and was immediately thrown into action.
“They had to rush me down there and get me into the game that night so that I would be eligible for the playoffs. I had no idea what to expect and was seriously nervous,” recalled Soderberg. “I pitched to just one batter who got on base on a broken bat, infield hit – which I was pretty upset about at the time. Luckily we got out of the inning so my ERA wasn’t infinity to start.”
After spending three days with a host family, Grant hit the road with the Chinooks for an eight-game road-trip.
“My host family was great,” he acknowledged. “They opened their doors to me and although I was only with them for a few days, it was great to be so welcomed.”
Soderberg couldn’t have joined the club at a more exciting time. Lakeshore, who just joined the Northwoods League last summer, was in the midst of a playoff push. On Aug. 7th, just seven days into Grant’s tenure with the team, the Chinooks held a two and a half game lead over Eau Claire with five games remaining in the regular season. Dramatically, the playoff chase came down to the final game of the regular season, and with a convincing 17-3 win over the Madison Mallards on Sunday, Aug. 11th, Lakeshore had hooked a playoff spot by winning the Northwoods League South Division Second Half Championship.
The Chinooks would eventually fall to the Mallards in the first round of the playoffs, but the experience for the Gustavus hurler could not have been better.
“The whole playoff push was surreal,” Grant said. “The experience being around such great competition during a stretch run where every pitch seemed to matter is something I will take from this experience the most.”
Although he didn’t see a lot of action, Soderberg did finish the summer with an 0-1 record and an ERA of 3.85 on the Chinooks pitching staff. He threw five innings, faced 23 batters, and allowed two earned runs.
In recounting his short-term experience, the schedule and level of competition are two aspects of the journey that stand out most to Grant. “The biggest eye-opener for me was the Major League style of schedule where you are playing games pretty much every day of the week. The travel and daily grind was something that took a bit to get used to but after a while you just learn to settle in.”
“The rosters are filled with mostly Division I and II players so it was good for me to see and get a feel for what I have to do to reach that level,” he added. “Some of these guys have a lot at stake and are playing in front of scouts every night. At the same time it’s still summer baseball and all the guys are there because they love to play ball.”
If Grant took away anything from his brief experience in the Northwoods League, it would be undoubtedly a new found appreciation of bullpen pitchers.
“I’ve started my whole life and now I was coming out of the bullpen,” laughed Soderberg. “I gained a lot more respect for what bullpen pitchers do. You get warmed up, sit back down, and wait six innings before stepping onto the mound in a tough situation. That’s pressure.”
In two seasons on the Gustavus Adolphus baseball team, Grant Soderberg has compiled an overall record of 7-9 with an ERA of 3.19. He holds an opponent batting average of .247 with 91 strikeouts compared to 21 walks (4.33:1). Soderberg was named the 2012 MIAC Rookie-of-the-Year and earned a place on the 2013 All-Conference Team following his sophomore season.