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HomeSportCook County Baseball: A Community Commitment

Cook County Baseball: A Community Commitment

When Arleigh Jorgenson, coach of the Cook County baseball team, approached the district American Legion League back in the ‘90s about the Vikings becoming part of the program, he was met with a welcome. “I’ve maintained friends with those coaches all these years,” he said.

But there was a bit of a hurdle. One coach asked what kind of field Cook County had. At the time, there was a softball field that he felt could be converted into a baseball field, but it would take a lot of ef­fort. It wasn’t deep enough to put in 90-foot bases. There was no fence. It was nowhere near level. “Just tell them to build you one,” he was told, as if it was all that easy.

However, Arleigh told me he has a list of volunteers that “filled a whole page” who were involved in build­ing the baseball field. The county brought in a grader and pushed back the sod. The Lions Club paid for a backstop. Dean Berneking brought in clay and a soil packer to build a mound. The Superior National Golf Course provided sod and reseed­ed it. The city allowed all the wa­ter they needed to get the grass to grow. Steven Wick laid sod. Rick Crawford brought in dirt and add­ed the dugouts. Many community members gave their time, talents, and resources to build up the field.

Two Twins grants were secured, and funds were raised locally. A grass infield was installed. The school had planned on putting a fence around their campus and Arleigh worked with the superintendent to fence in the baseball field, as well. He could also be found out in the field with a homemade rock-raker, grooming and removing gravel be­fore the games.

Chuck Futterer, Superintendent at the time, called Arleigh and told him that there had been a decision to name the field after him. “I said no, I don’t want that to happen,” he stated. After Chuck pointed out that Arleigh’s grandsons would be playing on a field named after him, he said he would think about it and call him back the next day.

He was told not to bother to call back. The decision was already made. He asked Chuck if naming the field after him also meant that he couldn’t ever retire. Chuck con­firmed that was correct. He’s since decided that he’s going to coach until he can see the building of the field all the way through. It is still in need of a grandstand area and lights.

A coach once told Arleigh that noth­ing would improve the program more than letting kids play under the lights. Extending the time into the evening to provide opportunities to play could make all the difference in the world. “Parents can come see the games. Kids love having the spotlight on them. It’s like Friday night football. There’s something about that. Something about play­ing under the lights,” he said.

A grandstand would prevent par­ents from needing to sit in lawn chairs and sometimes having their view blocked by a dug out.

“It’s a social event, and they’re en­gaged and supportive for sure but think about what a difference it would make sitting in a grandstand with a cover, hopefully, with a clear vision of the game,” Arleigh said. “They would be more engaged, and the energy would be increased for the kids on the field and the pro­gram in general.”

Arleigh has been very engaged in the program for decades. He came from a baseball communi­ty in Southern Wisconsin, where the church services were timed based on the town’s baseball team’s schedule. He started coaching his kids in little league in the late 80s. “When my kids were playing base­ball, I couldn’t resist,” he said. He bought a book on coaching from Barnes and Noble and attended, and still attends, coaching clinics in the Twin Cities and around the nation.

“I’ve heard some of the greatest coaches in the country speak,” Ar­leigh said. “You learn things and you want to bring that to the kids right here that are under your lead­ership.”

He calls baseball, and all sports, a learning experience. “It’s based on failure and how you respond to it. How you respond to adversity,” he said. “What do you do when an um­pire calls you out on a pitch that you didn’t like? How do you respond to that?”

As the season makes its way into playoffs, the team is focusing on having a strong mental approach. They are getting to the point, ac­cording to the coach, “where we enjoy every pitch, where we enjoy every inning, and that allows us to play our best.”

It’s a distracting time for students. Prom, graduation, finals, work, and other factors compete for priority. “Right now our biggest focus is just having good at bats, keeping our composure on defense, and let­ting mistakes go, and learning from them,” Arleigh said.

I admitted I’m still working on that last one and he agreed it’s a hard one to learn, especially in base­ball where mistakes take center stage. It’s easier to find someone or something else to blame. The coach thinks that the players should put it on themselves and remember in the end it’s a game. That the sun will shine the next day no matter what.

It also takes a team mentality to lift those up who may be feeling as though they let the team down by making an error or striking out. “Every player makes mistakes,” said Arleigh. “And every player needs the support of their team­mates at one time or another. So, you have to be brothers. You have to support one another.”

He sees the five seniors on the team this year as good sources of sup­port. “It’s a great group of seniors. There is a lot of talent, but it is also the leadership,” the coach said.

Practice consists of 36 kids, grades 6th-12th. It’s the seniors who most look out for the younger players, remembering how they felt at that age.

“It always amazes me how mature seniors are,” said Arleigh. “There’s just that jump of age. They’re the leaders in the high school, too. They are in a role of being the adults in the room on many different levels.”

Two of this season’s seniors will be playing baseball in college next year. Ethan Tate will be playing for Hamline. Hunter Gomez is head­ed to Iowa to play at William Penn University.

Arleigh teases that he’s still waiting for someone to knock on the door and say they want his job. Until then, he is happy to keep coaching. “It gives you a purpose as you get older in life,” he said. “It keeps you active and keeps you engaged in life. It’s an opportunity for me to be involved in knowing these kids as they grow up because they become men before you know it. I consider it a real privilege to be able to do this. I’m grateful to be able to do it as long as I have been.”

Arleigh went on to express how much he loves coaching and how much confidence he has in the kids he coaches.

“I love this team. I love the kids, each one individually. I know that they are going to grow into very fine human beings, great fathers and husbands, and contributors to society,” he said. “Cook County is amazing in that regard. It produces great people.”

Cook County also sure knows how to come together to create opportu­nities for kids to play sports. When I mentioned towards the end of the interview how impressed I was with the story of Arleigh Jorgenson Field, he responded that there is a lot of love for the game and it’s not just in Cook County.

“It’s not only our community that does this for baseball. Almost all of these Northern communities are like that. They have a lot of com­munity involvement in building and maintaining their facility,” Ar­leigh said. “That’s part of the bond that goes when you start playing teams. You all recognize that in one another, how much the community has done to present this beautiful field that we can play on.”

The Cook County baseball team is currently 4-12 overall, 2-6 in Sec­tion 7A, and 3-5 in the conference. Best of luck going into the playoffs, Vikings!

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