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Step up: Beyer enjoys time in Northwoods League

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THOMAS J. MILLER
June 17, 2011

Matt Beyer is getting a taste of what it's like playing minor league baseball.


Unfortunately, it might only last another week.


The Janesville Parker High School graduate and UW-Whitewater outfielder is playing in the Northwoods League. The league features players who have collegiate eligibility remaining. Wooden bats are used, and teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan make up the two-division, 16-team league.


Beyer has played in all 15 games for the Rochester (Minn.) Honkers. The Honkers are members of the eight-team Northern Division, which includes teams exclusively from Minnesota.


The Southern Division includes six teams from Wisconsin, including the Madison Mallards.


The Rochester roster includes players who attend and play for such univesities as Oregon, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Cal State Fullerton and New Mexico.


Beyer had no idea he would be playing baseball in Minnesota this summer. After the Warhawks were eliminated in the NCAA Division III World Series over Memorial Day weekend, Beyer had plans to stay in the area.


"I wasn't sure where I was going to play," Beyer said in a phone interview Thursday. "But I was going to play somewhere."


UW-Whitewater coach John Vodenlich then received a phone call from a Rochester coach asking if the Warhawks had any outfielders available. Vodenlich gave the coach Beyer's name and cell number.


"I called Matt up 15 minutes later," Vodenlich said. "He said he was leaving in an hour."


The hectic turnaround was required.


"I called up one of the coaches, and they said they wanted me to come play for them," Beyer said. "I asked when they wanted me. He said they were playing tomorrow night."


He packed and headed for Rochester. He was in the lineup the next night.


"They had 14 people, and eight of those were position players," Beyer said. "So I played 13 straight days before I got a night off."


The players stay with host families, and all their expenses are covered.


"I'd never been to Rochester," Beyer said. "It's a pretty nice city."


Beyer, who hit .273 with 26 RBIs and 11 stolen bases for the 37-13 Warhawks in his junior season, blended in quickly.


After 15 games, Beyer is hitting .265. He has 13 hits, including four doubles and a homer, with five runs scored and 4 RBIs.


He also has nine stolen bases, which ties him for second in the league.


Among his hits are four doubles and a homer. The homer came Monday night in the ninth inning. With two outs and the Honkers down a run, Beyer homered to tie the game, and the Honkers went on to win.


On June 5, Beyer went 3-for-5 with three stolen bases.


The Northwoods League is a major highway in attracting pro scouts. Three of the Milwaukee Brewers' top-10 draft choices earlier this month—third-rounder Andrew Gagnon of Cal State-Fullerton, fourth-rounder Nick Ramirez of Cal State-Fullerton and 10th-rounder Mike Strong of Oklahoma State—played for Rochester the past two seasons.


Unfortunately for local fans, there is no interdivisional play, so the Honkers do not play in Wisconsin during the regular season.


But even if there was interdivisional play, Beyer's experience in the league likely will be short-lived.


The reason Beyer was a late call-up was because several of the Honkers' regular players were still playing in the Division I tournament.


One of the regular outfielders, Tony Kemp of Vanderbilt, is in the College World Series. When Kemp's college season concludes, he will report to Rochester, and Beyer will be released.


"Eventually they will let me go," he said. "Hopefully someone else will pick me up."


If he doesn't get picked up by a Northwoods team, Beyer will return home, work the summer in Whitewater and join an area team. He said the month-long experience playing against and with Division I players would help him as he prepares for his senior season with the Warhawks.


"It's really been a lot of fun," Beyer said. "I've done better than I thought. It's been a great experience playing with a lot of D I players."



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