The latest census put the population of Randolph at 436 and the population of Faribault at 23,352. The towns are separated by 26 miles on the southeastern Minnesota prairie. Northfield is 13 miles from both.
Caleb Thielbar was born on Jan. 31, 1987, at Northfield Hospital. In proper time, he was wrapped in a blanket and taken home to Randolph.
Jake Petricka was born on June 5, 1988, at Northfield Hospital. Same routine, except he was taken to his family’s small farm near Faribault.
This weekend, Thielbar, 26, and Petricka, 25, have been separated by a few yards in the bullpens at Target Field.
The lefthanded Thielbar was promoted from Class AAA Rochester by the Twins on May 20. He opened with 17 scoreless appearances (a Twins record to start a career) and 19 ⅔ scoreless innings.
Thielbar now has been in 34 games, with a 0.87 ERA and an opponent batting average of .126.
The righthanded Petricka was promoted from Class AAA Charlotte and joined the Chicago White Sox on Saturday. He was switched from starter to the bullpen this season. His combined numbers at Charlotte and Class AA Birmingham were 5-0 with a 1.81 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 54⅔ innings.
Thielbar was asked before Sunday’s game if he had competed against Petricka.
“Not in high school,’’ he said. “Faribault was so much bigger than us … we never played.’’
How about town ball in Thielbar’s time with the Randolph Railcats? “We’re in different leagues,’’ he said. “I can’t remember playing Faribault.’’
OK, summer basketball? Thielbar was an outstanding 6-foot guard at Randolph. Petricka is 6-5 … he had to be a basketball player, right?
Thielbar shook his head and said: “Never ran into him.’’
About 100 yards down the corridor, in the visitors clubhouse, Petricka explained the reason for that.
“I was a hockey player,’’ he said. “I thought for the longest time that was going to be my sport. Everything was hockey to me … until my senior year, when a White Sox scout said they were interested in drafting me.’’
Bob Fielitz, Petricka’s coach at Faribault, said: “It was in the section tournament at Rochester. Jake pitched a one-hitter. The White Sox were scouting the game.’’
The White Sox selected Petricka in the 38th round in 2006. He didn’t sign. There was a problem beyond the small amount of bonus money available in that round.
Petricka had elbow pain. It turned out that he needed Tommy John surgery.
That took care of the last hope to find a prior matchup between the bouncing Northfield babies. Thielbar went to South Dakota State, and Petricka went to Indiana State, and Caleb had this recollection:
“We played at Indiana State. I pitched one of the games. Maybe he was in that series.’’
It was 2007. Thielbar went six innings and allowed two runs in a 3-2 victory in Terre Haute, Ind.
Trouble was, Petricka was at Iowa Western C.C. in Council Bluffs in 2007, rehabbing from his elbow surgery. He pitched for Iowa Western in 2008 and then was recruited to Indiana State.
Thielbar was drafted in the 18th round by Milwaukee in 2009. He had a good short season that summer, an awful year in the low-A Midwest League in 2010, and the Brewers released him.
Things were going in a different direction for Petricka. The Yankees drafted him in the 34th round in 2009. He returned to Indiana State for what was officially his junior season.
“My velocity came back that year ,’’ he said. “I moved up in the draft.’’
Yes, he did. The White Sox saw that fastball at 95 and above and took Petricka in the second round. He received a $540,000 bonus.
Petricka spent three seasons as a starter with so-so results. The White Sox put him in the bullpen for 2013. And 4 ½ months later, he was in the big leagues.
The closest Petricka came to a debut was warming up in the sixth inning of Chicago’s 5-2 victory on Sunday. The Faribault delegation — including wife Ellen, mother Lisa (a Faribault cop) and father Steve — must wait a bit longer for that grand moment.
What was established with Petricka’s arrival this weekend, though, was quite a left-right bullpen combination for the Northfield Hospital nursery All-Stars.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.