Before 2010 New Prague hadn't been to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament since 1997. They had a run of success from 1990 to 1997 (with the exception of '94) in which they made the tourney every year.
In 2010, with new coach Jerry Plambeck at the helm, the Orioles made the tourney field, but promptly lost to a strong Loretto team 3-2. Then in 2011 the Orioles got a healthy dose of tournament play, defeating Sobieski 4-2 and Maple Lake 8-3. They played a nail-biter with Waconia (the 2011 Runner-up) losing 6-5 on a 9th inning home run by Lakers' shortstop Ben Smothers. In the next game the Orioles were eliminated by the Mankato Mets 2-0. The Mets finished in third place.
Plambeck taught at New Prague High School for a couple of years starting in 2000. He was an assistant football and baseball coach while he was there and also managed the Shakopee Coyotes for 5 years. He played with them also until he had shoulder surgery and his playing days were done.
In late 2009 he got a phone call asking if he had an interest in coaching the Orioles. Since he had coached many of the players in his teaching days, he felt that he knew the players well and was excited to get the opportunity to coach them again.
When asked what had happened to the success of the Orioles in the 90s Plambeck explained that in 2002 the majority of the old team retired. In those days the top talent from New Prague was going to other area teams such as St. Patrick and Union Hill. "Now it is starting to kind of come around again...because if you have success, people want to play for you," he said. "I talked to people that played when they had tough years in the early 2000s and it just wasn't as fun. Now the kids have been to the State Tournament the last two years and last year we got to the final eight, so now they are super excited and they realize hey, they've always had the talent, they just had to see what it was like winning and getting a taste of it. Now they work harder than they ever did before because they have seen what it's all about," explained Plambeck.
What were the impressions from the 2011 State Tournament? "We loved it--the first year the guys were more in awe--this year they were hungry to be there and we really enjoyed it a lot more. We have a great fan base too--every game we had two big charter buses go to the game and our fans follow us real well," said Plambeck. "We wish we could have got a little deeper into it."
2012 looks good for New Prague. The ageless Paul Buss is the only Oriole to leave. He is going back to Jordan to retire after playing with the Orioles for five years. Other than that, Plambeck says that as far as he knows, everyone is coming back. "Dustin Steinhoff, Chris Hartman and Dan Novak are kind of our older guys," said Plambeck, "other than that everyone else is well under30 with a lot of 22-24 year olds."
Justin Novak is the Oriole's shortstop and leadoff batter. He plays at St. Thomas and will be back. Zach Sirek came in midseason last year and will return in 2012 to pitch. He is a baseball and football player at Augustana College in South Dakota. Austin Bachman plays football at River Falls and is the right fielder for New Prague. Dan Shetka is the number 2 hitter and third baseman. Tyler Sawyer is the second baseman and is also a quality hitter. The starting center fielder graduated in 2003 and Ross Skluzacek, the left fielder, is only 22 so there are plenty of reasons for optimism in New Prague. At catcher they have Dan Novak, who is a real hustler and very dependable.
"Every single person on our team is from New Prague and I've been a firm believer in that too. I don't want to go out and try finding guys when our talent is 100% local," said Plambeck.
In 2011, St. Patrick won the league, Lonsdale was second and New Prague, after a slow start, won 9 of their last 10 games to finish third. The Orioles beat Faribault in three games to advance to the regions. After losing to Blue Earth in an early game in the regional, they came back and beat the Cleveland Condors. Then the Orioles beat Lake Crystal and Lonsdale (the top seed) in the same day to make it to the State Tournament. "Winning--You've got to learn how to do that also," said Plambeck. Charlie Sheen isn't the only one.
This year they have around 30 games scheduled and will also play in the Green Isle-Hamburg Tournament as well as host their own tournament. New Prague starts their season on April 29th with a 2:00 P.M. game at Veseli. They will also play in their own tournament for the first time in many years. The tournament has been held since the 80s and is one of the oldest invitationals running. Nick Schoenecker has run the tournament for the last seven years and is proud of the fact that it has always been a very competitive tourney. This year it will be held June 1st through the 3rd. St. Benedict, Jordan, Arlington, Veseli, New Prague, Cleveland Condors, Winona and the Minneapolis Cobras will make up the field.
"Running the tournament every year really helps build team unity," stated Schoenecker. "One of our strengths is very good team chemistry. Nearly every player on the team is a New Prague graduate from about 1993-2011, and many are related to each other or former players in one way or another."
How about the new 48 team single elimination State Tournament format? "I really like the double elimination, but the thing I like about single elim is you have to show up to play every game. If you don't show up to play one game--You're done," said Plambeck.
Looks like a good year to go a little deeper.