On its 30th anniversary, players from the 1989 Janesville American Legion baseball team reflect on playing at the World Series and the magical run leading up to it.
Kyle Anderson—The 1989 Janesville Craig graduate shuffled between first base and catcher and was a key cog in the middle of the lineup.
He hit .505 during the regular season, with 10 home runs and a whopping 74 RBI.
Anderson’s most memorable moment from that season had to be his majestic home run at the state tournament. The moon shot traveled an estimated 450 feet and landed on the roof of a two-story apartment building across the street from the stadium.
Teammate Mark Sievert, who spent several years in the minor leagues, says Anderson’s home run is still “the farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit.”
Anderson said winning state was the highlight of the season.
“My favorite memory is winning state knowing we needed to win two games,” Anderson said.
“It seemed like we had no panic around us in the dugout. Like we knew we were going to do it. I suppose that sounds arrogant but that’s how much we believed in each other.”
Dan Bloom—The 1988 Craig graduate was as impactful a player on the ‘89 team as anyone. The right-hander finished with an 11-4 record, including a 3-2 win over Gonzales, Louisiana, in the World Series.
At the plate, Bloom hit .437 during the regular season and .444 at the Great Lakes Regional, where he also slugged two home runs.
Besides his heroic home run against Midland, Bloom’s favorite memory of the season was the bonding of the team.
“I really don’t think you will ever find a more cohesive team than the one we had,” Bloom said. “There were no egos or anything like that. We all just got along.
“The funny part is that although it really sounds conceited, we went into every game thinking we were going to win. That’s how high our confidence was. And even though we came up short at the World Series, I think everybody to this day will tell you that we were the best team there.”
Scott Baran—The 1989 Craig graduate was a stalwart defensively for Post 205. He could play anywhere on the infield but mainly was used at second base.
“He played as fine a second base as anyone has for me in five years,” coach Jerry Davis said at the state tournament.
Baran hit .296 for the season.
As much fun as Baran and his teammates had on the field, he said there were plenty of memorable moments off the field.
“Dan Molden and I roomed with Kyle Anderson and Brad Freeburg in our hotel room in Millington,” Baran said. “Dan and I cranked the heat on in our hotel room when it was about 100 degrees out and humid. We were 18 going on 15 or 16, and they were 18 going on 25 and so much more serious and mature at that time than us. I just remember Freebs didn’t find it too humorous.”
Baran also knew what made the team so successful on the field.
“I think it takes great team chemistry to win and we had that.” Baran said. “Moldy was the glue that kept us together having fun off the field, and Jerry Davis kept us together on the field building up our confidence to win.
“Plus, we had a great group of parents as well that supported us all through the summer when I should have been working and saving (money) for college.”
Tom Drew—The 1989 Janesville Parker graduate was the most consistent hitter on the team. The injury that kept him out of the final game of the World Series might have cost Post 205 the title.
The third baseman was hitting .375 at the World Series with five RBI before getting hit by a pitch on the elbow in his first at-bat against Puerto Rico and being forced to sit out. He finished the season with a .361 average.
Drew said he thinks often about that magical summer with his teammates and coaches.
“I’ll never forget the chemistry we had that season,” Drew said. “From the players, to the coaches and the parents. We basically spent that entire summer together, including the month of our postseason run living out of hotel rooms. Looking back now, that was quite a commitment.
“My dad still jokes about how it was going to take him 20 years to pay off his Visa bill from that summer. It was a very special time with a great bunch of guys whom I will never forget.”
Brad Freeburg—The all-everything Freeburg was Davis’ handyman on the team, capable of playing anywhere and everywhere.
The 1989 Craig grad finished with a .309 average for the season and 35 RBI, and came up big at the state tournament. Freeburg went 4-for-4 against Eau Claire in the state semifinal game.
Freeburg said winning state set the tone for rest of the postseason.
“It was our toughest road in my mind,” Freeburg said. “We had to beat Eau Claire twice on that Sunday, and we did. I remember trash talking all first game while playing first base, and the umpires warning us. Whatever. They were our toughest opponent even compared to the five World Series teams we played.
“And personally, our shortstop/second base combo of me and Schmitz stands out. There will be no other like it. Not sure how many double plays we turned, but we seemed to always have those opportunities in key spots. Joel and I always battled it out whether as teammates through the years in Babe Ruth and All Star or tournament teams, or as opponents in Little League and high school. Go look. Our error ratio was lights out as a team and as a combo. That’s why we won all those games. Great pitching, power hitting, and excellent defense.”
John Kraus—The speedy Kraus was instrumental in Post 205’s postseason run. The 1989 Craig grad scored the game-winning run in the state title game against Eau Claire and was the team’s go-to pinch-runner late in games.
A highlight for Kraus at the World Series, along with the rest of the team, was his brother Kevin’s flyover at the stadium. Kevin was a flight instructor at the time working with pilots in training at the Naval Air Station in Millington. Kevin came down to the dugout during the semifinal game against Puerto Rico and told John that he and the other pilot were leaving. About a half hour later, an A-4 Skyhawk with Kevin at the controls came screaming from behind the home plate grandstand and went to straight away center field, as low as it could go, cleared the park, tipped its wings and was gone.
“That was my favorite memory but there were so many others,” Kraus said. “The team, our great group of talented players, Dan Bloom’s miraculous home runs to send us to the Series, the hero treatment we received from the World Series organizers. They flew us to the event and included food, lodging and a police escort. The field was in Major League condition, and just how incredible our record was all year and to cap it off at the Legion World Series.”
Brian Helbing—A 1988 Madison Holy Name graduate, Helbing provided a steady glove at first base and some pop off the bench with his bat.
He has a lot of fond memories from that summer, but his favorite one was Anderson’s towering home run at state.
“The day we arrived, Kyle Anderson pointed at the apartments that were across the street from the left field fence and said to me, “Binger, I’m going to hit one of those,” Helbing said. “And he did just that, hitting the roof of one of the apartments about a foot or two from the top. When we all met him at home plate, he was laughing and said, “Binger, I told you so.”
Dan Milligan—The 1989 Parker grad shared the catching duties with Anderson.
He hit .330 during the regular season and turned it up a notch during tournament play, finishing with a .393 average in the postseason.
Defensively, he was a brick wall behind the plate and difficult to run on.
Like many of his teammates, Milligan’s favorite memory of the summer was Bloom’s home run in Danville.
“It was top of the ninth with one out, game tied, and I hit a triple,” Milligan said. “I stayed on third when Kyle Anderson grounded out. Then, after taking my lead at third, I watched Dan Bloom hit a bomb over the left field wall. That put us up two, we held them in the bottom of the inning and stayed undefeated. It was just an incredible feeling for it to come together like that.”
Todd Fulton—The 1991 Parker graduate was called up from the Junior Legion team for the tournament and served as the bullpen catcher.
Jason Melvin—The 1990 Craig graduate was added to the team for the postseason to provide depth on the pitching staff. The right-hander can say he was a part of the greatest pitching staff in state Legion history.
“I was honored to get the chance to play with such an awesome group of guys,” Melvin said. “It was a wild ride with heroics coming from every position and every player at different times.
“And I will say this. A group of diverse characters and coaches got along as well as anybody that’s ever played together. The group just had the right swagger at the right time and picked each other up.
“Even the parents and fans that followed us around and supported us were a major part of the journey, as well.”
Scott Odegaard—As great as the southpaw was during the regular season, he elevated his game during the postseason.
The 1989 Parker graduate was 5-1 during the postseason, including 2-0 at the state tournament. He finished the season 10-2 with a 1.71 ERA.
Many marveled at Odegaard’s stamina and ability to start back-to-back games on the same day at state, but the highlight of the summer for him was the camaraderie between teammates and coaches.
“That was an awesome summer,” Odegaard said. “We had coaches that we enjoyed playing for, very talented players and guys who really got along on and off the field.
“We had studs like Schmitz and Thelen and really no weak spots. And playing against future Major Leaguers in the World Series and doing interviews and signing autographs was pretty memorable stuff when you’re 18.
“And we had as much fun off the field as we did on. All those guys were special, and it’s still great to see them as often as possible. But maybe the most fun was kicking Schmitz and Drew’s butt in euchre and taking their meal money.”
Dan Molden—The fleet-footed center fielder was the catalyst for Post 205.
A 1989 Craig grad, Molden ran wild on the basepaths, finishing with 40 stolen bases in 52 games.
He posted a .363 batting average for the season and patrolled center field like Willie Mays. His trademark jack of clubs that he carried at all times in his back pocket of his uniform was the team’s calling card.
“You know when you try a recipe for the first time, and it doesn’t quite come out right? But you stick to it. Use the same ingredients. Maybe subtract one or two. Add one or two,” Molden said. “This is what I think about when I look back on our run in the summer of ’89.
“We had played together so many years. We had always lost the heartbreakers. We could never get over the hump. and then we did.
“To the parents, the coaches and my teammates. We were a family. We traveled together. We competed together. We won together and we lost together. Every single person was a part of that team. It was something special.
And to coach Davis: Helluva job coach. And thank you.”
Joel Schmitz—The 1989 Parker grad and three-time all-Big Eight first-team shortstop was the glue to the infield.
The team’s leadoff hitter, Schmitz hit .338 for the season and batted .407 at the state tournament.
Although Schmitz put together an impressive highlight package that summer, his favorite memory was Bloom’s home run at the Great Lakes Regional.
“We were playing Midland, Michigan,” Schmitz said. “I believe we were ahead late in the game, and there was a ball hit to right field where Dan Bloom was playing. It would have been a tough catch, but a play that Danny made all the time. The ball went off his glove, and the tying run scored as a result. Bloomer came in after the inning and was crying and felt awful.
“In the next half inning, we got a guy on base, and Bloomer stepped to the plate and hit a two-run homer to put us ahead for good. I played a lot of ball before and after that, and that was the most dramatic and fun play I was ever apart of. The circumstances of what had just happened 10 minutes earlier coupled with the huge stakes of our journey....man that was fun.”
Mark Sievert—All the 16-year-old Sievert did in his first season with Post 205 was go 8-0, including a complete-game victory over Fullerton, California, in the World Series.
The right-hander and 1991 Watertown Luther Prep graduate would’ve likely been the ace on any other staff, but with Thelen and Odegaard ahead of him, Sievert was comfortable in his role as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter along with Bloom.
Pitching at the World Series was one of many highlights of the summer for Sievert.
“Game 3 of the World Series will always stick with me,” Sievert said. “Coach Davis had to make a tough decision who he should start in our elimination game having used our two clear-cut aces in Thelen and Odegaard. Was he going to go with Bloom or myself? I really don’t think there was a question who was better. Danny truly was. But I think coach Davis felt our best defensive and offensive lineup was putting Danny in the field, and I was just young and dumb enough to buy his coaching tactics putting me on the mound.
“Things worked out that game and we showed we belonged with the best in the nation being at that tourney. All in all, I think deep down, we all knew we were the best team there. There were individual studs for each team, but as a whole, wow, we were good. But that’s both the tough and great part of baseball. It doesn’t always work out as it is supposed to. Baseball is a game that teaches you how to deal with failures and coming up short. That experience was one that helped me through my remaining years of playing the game and even into the days leading up to today.”
Dan Turner—The 1990 Parker grad was a defensive specialist in the outfield and a strong left-handed bat off the bench.
Turner said constantly being on the go and living out of a suitcase the month of August stands out the most.
“After we won the regional, we didn’t even go home,” Turner said. “We got on a bus in Danville that took us to the Indianapolis airport. When we landed in Memphis, we got on another bus and waited for other teams to arrive.
“Once the other teams were on buses, we had a police escort to a restaurant in Millington. Inside there were mountains of McDonald’s burgers, pizzas, and other food for us. We were given a duffel bag full of World Series swag and a customized Louisville Slugger bat. It was all a pretty crazy 24 hours.”
Jeff Thelen—On a pitching staff that finished the season with a minuscule 1.02 ERA, Thelen was the ace.
The right-hander and 1989 Craig graduate was 14-0 before suffering his first loss at the World Series.
At times, the Minnesota Twins draft pick was unhittable.
Thelen said he took that magical summer and the trip to the World Series for granted for a long time but now appreciates it more than ever.
“It’s crazy that the Legion World Series was 30 years ago,” Thelen said. “What stands out to me, even more than getting to the World Series, is the great bunch of guys we had on our team—both players and coaches.
“In retrospect, I believe I didn’t fully appreciate the experience we had together. Maybe it’s that I was young and less aware, but I wish I could say to all of my former teammates and coaches that I now appreciate you, even if I didn’t at the time.
“My greatest memory of that amazing run to the Legion World Series was being able to have the quality guys on our team. For younger players, my recommendation is that if there is an exciting run of team success, enjoy the moment but enjoy and be grateful for teammates and coaches. Success comes not from the individual player but from the quality of the team. I didn’t appreciate that 30 years ago, but I do now. I look back 30 years later and wish I would’ve told my teammates and coaches how grateful I was to be able to be part of such a special group. My greatest memory is that special group of players and coaches; my greatest regret is not appreciating them as I could have.”
Jerry Wellnitz—The 1989 Lakeside Lutheran graduate hit the ‘shot heard round the world’ at the World Series. His three-run homer in the opening game lifted Janesville to a 11-7 win over Braintree, Massachusetts.
Wellnitz finished the season with a .290 average and was solid defensively in left field.
Wellnitz said the highlight of the summer was playing one final time with friends he had grown up with and played with for eight years.
“Going into the ‘89 season, I remember being very optimistic,” Wellnitz said. “I dropped the first ball hit to me at tryouts and was concerned they would cut me. I hit like .700 my senior year but slumped most of the Legion season. That was hard for me, but everyone picked me up, and I came through when the team needed me. Everyone was awesome. There was no drama.
“And it was unbelievably different times back then. There was literally no way to check in with buddies back home and was awesome to hear them say they were listening to the games (WCLO) etc. No Facebook or cellphones. That alone made it cool in retrospect.”