The South Dakota State athletes are on campus in Brookings and engaging in practices that are affected to a degree by the pandemic, even in the home state of the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
“We’ve been working in small groups with a social distancing element, and also a lot of individual work,’’ women’s basketball assistant coach Carissa Thielbar said. “We won’t know until mid-September, at the earliest, what the Summit League might be planning for our schedules this season.’’
As all committed promoters of Jackrabbits basketball should do, Carissa asked: “Have you seen our basketball facilities here?’’
The Twin Cities reporter was able to confirm he had seen the treasures attached to Frost Arena — duplicate huge gyms and team areas for the men’s and women’s programs.
The Jacks’ assistant coach played basketball as Carissa Nord at UW-Superior. She was a graduate assistant and then assistant at South Dakota State from 2011 to 2015. She spent two years as an assistant at Bucknell, one at Colorado State, and then returned to work for coach Aaron Johnston as a Jackrabbits assistant in 2018.
Carissa had been married since October 2016 to Caleb Thielbar, by then a pitcher 17 months removed from the major leagues and destined to return to the St. Paul Saints (after being released by Miami) for the small wages of independent baseball for a second straight season.
As Caleb moved into his 30s, were there discussions as to how long the baseball quest should continue?
“We would talk about it, but he really believed in himself,’’ Carissa said. “He supported me so strongly with my coaching career … we were just in everything together.
“And watching how he was constantly working for ways to make himself better; it was very easy to trust him.’’
On Friday, Carissa was occupied with her coaching duties, 15-month-old son Joshua was with grandmother Denise, and her trustworthy husband, Caleb, was at Target Field, knowing that at some point he would pitch for the Twins in the pair of seven-inning games vs. the Tigers.
“We watch all the night games here in Brookings, of course,’’ Carissa said. “For the day games, I take a look at Twitter and usually get a heads-up when Caleb will be pitching.’’
Thielbar had signed on last fall to be Augustana’s pitching coach, while also knowing his stout pitching at Class AAA Toledo in 2019 figured to get him a minor league deal with an invite to big-league spring training.
The Twins offered such a contract in mid-December and he was getting a solid look in exhibitions when baseball shut down in mid-March. When teams were reassembled for the 60-game season starting in early July, Thielbar didn’t make the top 30 working out at Target Field, but he did make the cut for the jayvee squad at CHS Field in St. Paul.
The Twins work out in the morning, the Saints — since returning to their home ballpark — in the afternoon.
“We had Caleb three times and he was signed by a major league organization every time,’’ Saints manager George Tsamis said. “With him, it’s ‘give me the ball.’ Never a complaint, never an excuse.
“I was at the park in early August, saw Caleb shagging, went out and talked to him for a while, and then a couple of hours later I was told, ‘Caleb got called up.’
“Same day. Made me feel great. And that curveball he’s throwing … it’s tremendous.’’
The Twins won the opener 2-0 on Friday. The traditional Matt Wisler/bullpen game followed, and in the third, Sean Poppen gave up two runs for a 2-1 Tigers lead.
Thielbar entered with two outs. A misplay by shortstop Jorge Polanco required him to get out of a bases-loaded mess. Then, in the fifth, he escaped first-and-third, one-out to keep the game at 2-1.
The Twins then rallied to tie in the seventh, and won it in the top of eighth. Yes, top … you figure it out.
Caleb had been summoned from St. Paul on Aug. 3. He pitched the next night — his first game in the big leagues since April 30, 2015. He pitched 2⅓ innings, allowing five hits and two runs.
Oh-oh? Not so much.
He now has nine straight scoreless outings and has not allowed any of seven inherited runners to score.
“I probably hate giving up other people’s runs more than my own,’’ Thielbar said.
This cliché, in Thielbar’s case, rings true. He goes about his business about as quietly as any big-leaguer.
“The quietest,’’ Carissa said Friday. “It’s a lot of fun for us. I actually got home in time to watch him pitch today. I can’t put into words how proud and how excited I am for him.’’
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