Woodbury’s struggles at the start of the baseball season were not unexpected.
But then, neither was the Royals’ second-half turnaround.
A lineup full of seniors departed after last season’s third-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament. An adjustment period was natural.
“We had a talented team last year,” Woodbury coach Kevin McDermott said. “We had a lot of young kids along for the ride, and we needed to see how they went about their business. We scuffled a little there in the middle of the season. I thought we could go either way, but we found it and got rolling.”
Baseball being a team game, it’s overly simplistic to credit one player for the Royals’ second-half surge to another Class 4A tournament berth. But then, Max Meyer is no ordinary player.
The senior pitcher/shortstop is not going to intimidate batters with his physical presence — he stands about 6 feet and weighs in the neighborhood of 165 pounds.
But eyes widen when he releases his 90-plus mph fastball. He mixes in a slider and a changeup that baits batters into awkward swings, and he throws them all for strikes. On the season, Meyer is 9-1 with a 0.77 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 72 ⅓ innings.
By most accounts, the Gophers signee is the best pitcher in the metro not named Sam Carlson. Meyer was selected by the Twins in the 34th round of baseball’s amateur draft on Wednesday.
“No doubt he lifts the entire team,” McDermott said. “There is a different feeling when Max is out there.”
As good as he’s been, even Meyer wasn’t immune to the Royals’ early-season woes. He, like the rest of the team, labored through April.
“Early in the year, Max had a lot of scouts here to see him and maybe he was trying to do too much,” McDermott said. “He’s always had great velocity, but he was trying to blow up the [radar] gun. It was a learning experience for him.”
Things changed as soon as May arrived. Meyer pitched three consecutive shutouts in victories over White Bear Lake, Roseville and Park of Cottage Grove, giving up a total of only four hits. Since then, he’s given up just two earned runs, walked only four and struck out 68.
“I think I was trying to pump in fastballs early in the season,” Meyer said. “I think things came around in the Roseville game. I pitched really well, I hit a home run. Everything started to click.”
The Royals are 11-1 since their 5-7 start to the season and have won nine consecutive games. While much of the attention has focused on Meyer, there have been plenty of other reasons for their improvement. First baseman Ronnie Sweeny, who hits third in the lineup right behind Meyer, has responded with a robust .380 batting average and a team-leading six home runs.
“He’s been one of the best hitters in the state,” McDermott said. “He’s got 70 RBI over the last three years.”
Senior Brodie Paulson has thrived since moving into the cleanup spot in the order, hitting .296, and Nolan Glunz has produced big hits while hitting fifth.
McDermott also singled out freshman Brock Rinehart, who has solidified the catching position since moving behind the plate midway through the year.
“He’s done a really great job,” Meyer said. “I can throw a pitch in the dirt, and I can trust that he’s going to block it.”
Considering where they were at the start of the season, the Royals are a confident bunch right now. If they needed extra motivation, they open the Class 4A state tournament against Champlin Park, which defeated them 2-1 in the semifinals a year ago.
“If I told you we weren’t motivated to play them, I’d be lying,” McDermott said. “They’re a good team. They play fast, they play hard, they play good defense. We’re excited for it. We owe these guys.”