WEBSTER, MINN. – Long ago, we had moved from the bustling downtown area of Prior Lake to a house 3 miles south. My friend Mike Augustin made his first trip to the rural location and might have left around midnight.
A couple of hours later, the phone rang and when answered, Augie asked through a tinny-sounding pay phone: “Where the heck is Webster?”
He might not have said “heck,” but it was clear that Augie had turned left rather than right at the stop sign, meandering farther south and past the silos and hamlets of Rice County.
Earlier this month, I was making an intentional trip in daylight to this tiny burgh. After winding across the country roads for a half-hour, I waved down a truck and asked the driver, “Where the heck is Webster?”
The key to finding (or escaping) Webster is not to be confused by the first ‘S’ curve outside of Elko New Market. You keep straight and take the second ‘S’ curve to find Webster Township’s ballpark, on the edge of the village of 120 residents.
The Webster Sox were in action on a Sunday afternoon, fewer than 72 hours after they had ended a troublesome 51-game losing streak in the Dakota-Rice-Scott amateur baseball league.
Marcus Pleiss drew a bases-loaded walk that brought home Jake McDonald in the bottom of the ninth and gave the Sox a 5-4 victory over the New Prague Orioles on July 14. It was Webster’s first victory in a D-R-S league game since beating Union Hill 1-0 on July 9, 2014.
It had to be a glorious moment for Mike Sandmann, the manager and occasional player who has been involved with Webster baseball for 33 years.
What were those emotions, Mike, when you saw McDonald sprinting happily home to end a two-year losing streak in league play?
“I had been there earlier, to get everything ready for the game, but then I went to Union Hill to play in a 35-and-over game,” Sandmann said. “I got a text saying it was 4-4 in the ninth, and a few minutes later, I got the news that we had won.”
There might have been a late-night celebration at the Ranchero Supper Club, Webster’s only bar, but it has been closed for a few weeks for remodeling. So, Sandmann had a beer in Union Hill and tipped his cap to the Sox who had produced the victory at Elko’s ballpark.
Webster doesn’t have lights, so when there’s a D-R-S home game on a weeknight, the Sox play in Elko.
The team’s Twitter account, @WebsterSox, proclaimed the 51-game losing streak after a 9-1 loss on July 12 to the Union Hill Bulldogs.
This caused me to give the Sox credit for surpassing Macalester’s 50-game losing streak in football from 1974 to 1980. Yes, there have been longer streaks in various sports, but to me the Fighting Scots’ football streak has stood the test of time as Minnesota’s zenith of hapless losing.
And as it turns out, the Sox really can’t claim to have surpassed Mac’s magical 50. “The 51 were D-R-S games in the regular season,” Sandmann said. “We won a playoff game against Faribault a couple of years ago, then lost the next two in a best-of-three. And we beat Montrose-Waverly [13-12] in a nonleague game to start this season.”
The victory over New Prague was followed with a D-R-S home-and-home against St. Benedict, another dot on the Minnesota map.
The dream of a winning streak took a blow during the pregame warmup on July 19. Sandmann was trying to hit a fly ball to outfielders and instead he drilled second baseman Jacob Shiffner in the head with a line drive.
“He couldn’t play, so we only had nine guys,” Sandmann said.
The Sox were swept that weekend by St. Benedict, including being 10-runned in the Sunday home game after blowing chances to take a lead in the middle innings.
Jeremy Wieland, pitcher, infielder and Sandmann’s No. 2 in organizing the Sox, said: “I’m from New Ulm, and when I played there with the Brewers, we called it a ‘Brewer inning’ when we scored four or five runs. Here, we play well for most of the game, and then we’ll have what we call a ‘Webster inning,’ when we make four or five errors.”
What the Sox do is keep coming back. The new D-R-S losing streak reached three games with a 9-4 loss against New Prague’s vengeful Orioles on Sunday, and now a best-of-three playoff starts Tuesday night at Montgomery.
If the Sox can just stay away from that “Webster inning,” you never know …