The village of Muenster can lay a strong claim to the title of Saskatchewan’s baseball capital.
Despite having a population of fewer than 500, the community produces baseball talent at a prodigious rate.
Jake Orthner lives in Regina, where he attends and plays ball at the Martin Academy in Regina, 225 kilometres south of Muenster. His hometown of Southey is a bit closer but it’s still a 90-minute drive each way.
From the start, he could tell it was a special place.
“I was thinking it’s a small town, right, so being from a small town I kind of had an idea, but when I got here it’s like the whole community is out here for every game. It’s awesome, actually,” he said.
On rare occasions when the crowd is smaller, it’s usually because some of the locals have hit the road to support one of the other youth teams that are part of the Red Sox program.
That’s because in Muenster baseball is a way of life, passed down from one generation to the next.
The head coach of the 18U team, which rebranded itself as the East Central Red Sox this year, is a perfect example.
“My dad was a big supporter of Red Sox baseball. (James Korte Field) here is named after my father. So it’s been a family upbringing of Red Sox baseball my whole life,” Garret Korte said.
In his first year as head coach after several as an assistant, Korte’s roster includes his 16-year-old son, Adam, who served as the team’s batboy in his younger years.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I could stand up and I’ve been watching Red Sox games since I’ve been alive,” Adam said.
Muenster’s baseball roots go back more than 100 years. The sport’s history in the community is so rich, in fact, that in 2014 the village itself was inducted into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame.
While in the past it was the Senior Red Sox who got much of the attention, these days it’s all about the kids.
The community is home to a thriving youth program headlined by the 18U Red Sox, who joined the SPBL in 2015.
“We had a few kids the previous year who ended up going to Saskatoon to play and we were noticing kids in our area who were wanting to play at possibly a higher level, a triple-A level, that we were going to lose if we didn’t have something around for our area,” explained SPBL vice-president Chad Hofmann, the Red Sox former head coach who now assists Korte.
“We had a group of kids that year that we definitely knew could compete, so that’s how it started and in the first couple years we had a lot of just Muenster kids that were in that group and since then it’s expanded to the (surrounding) area so it’s worked out really well.”
Compete they did.
“The first year we had a team we actually ended up first in our league, (then) we lost out at provincials. The second year, we ended up winning provincials and went to nationals that season and you know each year (since) we’ve had quality teams and we’re competitive,” Hofmann said.
That ability to compete with teams from much larger centres is a huge source of pride for the Sox.
So, too, are the alumni who have gone on to play baseball at the college level and even in the pros, in the case of Muenster native Logan Hofmann, Saskatchewan’s highest-ever Major League Baseball draft pick.
Hofmann was part of that provincial championship team and was actually selected twice in the MLB draft.
The right-handed pitcher was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 35th round in 2019 and then, after deciding not to sign with the Cards and re-entering the draft, Hofmann’s bet on himself paid off when he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fifth round a year later.
Now honing his craft in the Pirates minor-league system, Hofmann serves as an inspiration to the current generation of Red Sox players.
He even worked with the team during the 2020 season, taking advantage of an unexpected break in his playing schedule brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you want to look up to anybody, Logan’s the guy. He works hard. You know he’s never been given anything and the best part about that is he kinda came through our 18U program. He didn’t go to an academy somewhere else, he came from here,” Korte said.
Orthner is one of the players who had a chance to learn from Hofmann in 2020.
“It just shows you anything’s possible, right? Small-town Saskatchewan (guy) playing MLB ball, that’s awesome,” he said.
But even if players don’t move on to the next level like Hofmann or the estimated 15 to 20 alumni who have played for post-secondary programs since the 18U team was formed, they’ll always be part of a Red Sox legacy that only continues to grow.
“It’s kind of tradition. It’s been always here, 100 years since it started. I mean, it’s always been here and hopefully always will,” Adam said.
Or, put another way:
“The coffee row talk is baseball. That’s what we talk about in the summer. There’s three things we talk about, like many Saskatchewan people, it’s the weather, our roads and baseball in Muenster. That’s our conversation,” Chad Hofmann said.
A conversation that shows no sign of ending any time soon.