Big news from Park (Cottage Grove) High School: The Wolfpack have hired former Major League pitcher Kerry Ligtenberg as their head baseball coach. Ligtenberg, a 1989 graduate of the school, takes over for longtime coach Reid Tschumperlin, who resigned.
Ligtenberg was a three-time letterwinner at Park before pitching for the Gophers in college. He then was a relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves from 1997-2002, finishing fourth in the 1998 American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Ligtenberg tried a comeback with the St. Paul Saints in 2009, but retired later that summer. Here's a story I did on Ligtenberg from his Saints "tryout" day April 30 of last year:
razor blade-style sideburns from a decade ago. His arm is good
enough for the St. Paul Saints to give a local guy the possibility
of another summer under the sun.
The optimistic side of Kerry Ligtenberg calls it a comeback. The
realist knows it's probably his last shot at competitive baseball.
Regardless, the truth is that 10 days shy of his 38th birthday,
the one-time Gophers pitcher and Atlanta Braves closer continues to
have the desire to pitch.
After watching Ligtenberg throw a 10-minute live session from the
Midway Stadium mound Thursday afternoon, Saints manager George
Tsamis invited Ligtenberg to this year's team camp.
"He threw well with his movement and hitting his spots," Tsamis
said. "You don't have to throw 95 miles per hour, you just have to
throw strikes, hit your spots, change speeds."
Ligtenberg is scheduled to throw in the Saints' first exhibition
game Sunday against the Cannon Valley League All-Stars in Miesville.
The Saints are still looking for a ninth-inning pitcher this
season, and for now Ligtenberg might be it.
"We're going to find out," Tsamis said. "He mentioned the
possibility of starting, but I don't think that's the right thing.
We'll take it day by day, an inning at a time, and see how it works
Ligtenberg has a degree in chemical engineering from the
University of Minnesota, but he recently has gotten into the
financial planning field.
Before jumping on the job offers that have come his way,
Ligtenberg -- a 1989 graduate of Park of Cottage Grove now living
in Eagan -- had to give pitching one more chance.
Ligtenberg last threw to live competition while in spring
training with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. However, a knee injury
shortened that stint and it wasn't until last July during a game of
catch that Ligtenberg decided he might give playing another chance.
"I might be old and gray," Ligtenbeg said. "But I still love to
That much was evident to the batters Ligtenberg faced Thursday --
players also hoping for an invite to Saints camp, who showed up for
Mike Merrill, a 26-year-old former Macalester baseball player,
said he was aware he was facing a former major leaguer.
"I remember him with the Braves, but I guess I didn't put the
timeline together," Merrill said.
A walk-on player for the Gophers in the early 1990s, Ligtenberg
caught on with the independent Minneapolis Loons of the now-defunct
Prairie League in 1994. Despite throwing a no-hitter in August of
1995, he came close to calling it a career before he hooked up with
Atlanta's organization and soon rose to the major leagues.
He converted 30 of 34 save opportunities and had a 2.71 ERA as a
rookie with the 1998 Braves -- a team that won 106 regular-season
games before losing to the Padres in the National League
But from there, an elbow injury suffered in spring training the
next season ultimately led to Tommy John surgery. It was the
beginning of the end of his career in the big leagues.
Ligtenberg recorded only 17 saves from 2000-04. He last appeared
in the majors in seven games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005.
And now: one more try.
"I'm just going and seeing what happens," he said. "I still feel
I can get people out. But I'm realistic; half these kids probably
watched me when they were in junior high. I'm just going to go out
and give it all I have. It's just a matter of going out and trying
one last time."