Home sweet home

The wait is nearly up for Minot baseball players, coaches and fans, who have yearned for America’s Pastime to be played at Corbett Field.

The field was ruined by the 2011 flood and hopes of American Legion baseball returning to the 78-year-old venue remained just hopes in 2012.

The crack of wood bats will be heard again Monday when Minot hosts Wahpeton in the Vistas’ home opener and the first game of any kind at Corbett in more than two years.

“Finally being back in Corbett is unreal,” Vistas and Minot State University pitcher Austin Berntson said. “I kind of had butterflies the first time I played here and it has me jittery. I just want to be back.”

Said fellow 19-year-old and infielder Marcus Quist: “It’s gonna mean the world, actually, ’cause playing on Hoeven it’s not the same thing. It’s just not the same kind of scenery. You get all the fans back here and around and at Hoeven it’s just right behind you. It’s just a great feeling being back on the field.”

The Vistas and 15th-year coach Todd Larson will test a new lineup on the road to start the program’s 79th season. Minot plays doubleheaders at Fargo and West Fargo tonight and Thursday, respectively. Larson feels the Vistas have put together an ambitious 51-game regular season, which includes five games in Omaha, Neb., from June 19-22.

“Nothing’s changed,” Larson said. “I still get excited for opening night. I feel privileged to put on that Minot Vistas uniform and coach this group.

“We really think we can put a quality group of baseball players on the field this summer.”

Berntson, Quist and two other 19-year-olds will lead a team looking to build off a 20-26 season in 2012. Casey Ryan, of Dickinson State, and fellow 2012 Minot High graduate Brock Krueger round out the final-year players.

Berntson will lead about 12 players that are expected to pitch. The southpaw was 2-0 with one save in six appearances for the Beavers this spring and finished the 2012 Legion season 4-4.

“I believe we can be very good,” Berntson said. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of young kids, who also have talent, and when we put those two together it should be good. About half the team has state experience from winning state (in 2010), so half of us know what it’s like and we can tell that to the younger guys and have them know what to expect.”

The pitching rotation will receive a boost from newcomer Demitry Zafra, who finished 5-1 in his first season with Minot High. Other starters may include Grant Larson, Hunter Oothoudt and Chandler Jacob, who is recovering from a sore arm following the high school season.

Todd Larson expects to use Quist and Caleb Fornshell in late-game situations.

Jake Magnuson, one of two players from Bishop Ryan High School, is expected to start behind the plate. He was called up from the Junior Legion Metros late last year to gain experience.

Fornshell will lead off after thriving in that role during the high school season and batting over .400. Berntson led the Vistas last season with both a .423 average and 37 RBIs. Krueger and Oothoudt are expected to hit in the middle of the order.

“Probably the most solid we’ve been in a couple years, but we just got to come out and play,” said Quist, who will bat second. “If we play solid up and down the lineup, we can be very dangerous.”

The Vistas will be without slugger Kolton Larson this season. Last year’s catcher is focusing on his recovery from a left-foot injury in preparation for his final season of prep football.

“We’ll miss him, but we’ll have to worry about the kids we have on the team,” Todd Larson said, “and it’s a roster of good athletes and really good ballplayers.”

The team also lost Micah Holmen and Ben Magnuson, both MSU players who finished their Legion eligibility last year.

The team will face its stiffest out-of-state competition during the Omaha trip, which coincides with the College World Series. The Vistas will play teams from New Brighton, Minn.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Woodward, OK.; Denver and Omaha.

“We just knew with this group of kids coming, we’d have to get them out and play this type of tournament,” Todd Larson said.

The team also will have opportunities to watch CWS games during the trip.

Players are eager to make the trip, but showing well against the top teams in the eastern part of the state comes first. After that it’s back to Corbett.

“It has a certain thing about it,” Berntson said. “Not just being it’s our home field, but, like, it’s one of the most beautiful fields in the Midwest, I think. And just the upkeep that it has and the good grounds crew, it makes it a very good field.”