After last year, it was time for a change for the Marshall A's amateur baseball team.
Playing in the Southern Minny League, with teams from Mankato, New Ulm, Rochester and Austin, the travel was starting to become too strenuous. So the A's wanted to find something closer to home, and they got their wish in joining the Corn Belt League. The Corn Belt League includes the Milroy Yankees, Granite Falls, Raymond, Willmar, Sacred Heart and Bird Island.
"After last season, we wanted to get out and do something different and get involved where ever we could," said Marshall manager Sean Culhane. "We wanted more of a scenario of teams we'll play on a yearly basis, and that's what we went with. Fortunate enough, the gentlemen in the Corn Belt contacted us. I talked to a few guys over there, and they had mentioned that they were interested in having us.
"It happened pretty fast, and boom, we're in a new league."
After going 22-8 last year and missing the Class B state playoffs for the first time since 2006, the A's will open the 2012 season against the Dawson Drakes tonight at Legion Field.
The new league won't be the only change the A's will have to go through in 2012.
One of the biggest question marks comes on the mound, where Nate Dickhausen is the top returning starter after going 7-2 last year in a team-high 15 starts. With hurlers Ben Bartling and Jared Pick gone from the team, Culhane is exploring different options for his starting unit.
"When Jared was moving and Bartling was moving, we knew we were going to have to find guys in different roles," Culhane said. "Andrew Kinney is a guy you'll see on the mound more this year. As good as Kinney was in the outfield, he was originally recruited as a pitcher (at Southwest Minnesota State). Then we got guys like Zach Olson, (Brandon) Wilhelmi, Chace (Pollock) that will throw. Even guys like Cody Curry will pitch for us."
Offensively, Marshall returns much of its firepower from a year ago, with Kinney (.333 batting average, 3 home runs, 8 doubles), Tyler Flattum (.336, 36 hits, 19 RBIs) and Pollock (20 runs, 15 RBIs) returning to the lineup.
"You look at the season averages from last year, and everything looks good with (Jordon) Kontz, Flattum and Kinney," Culhane said. "We added some depth, too. We do have some team speed and some more pop. ... You can never really say anything until you play."
Along with the league change, the A's will be in Section 7 of Class B, taking on a majority of teams from Central Minnesota including the Granite City Grays of St. Cloud, Cold Spring and the defending Class B champions, Sauk Rapids.
"That's a very good area for baseball, and we feel like we're equipped for it," Culhane said. "There's very talented teams in that section, which is no different than our old section. ... We'll have to play our best baseball."
This season, the Marshall A's will celebrate their 40th-year anniversary, with players from the A's and Giants. On June 1, the A's will host an alumni game prior to their matchup with Hadley. The following day, the team will host a golf tournament at Savannah Oaks Golf Club in Lynd.
"I can't express how happy I am to be involved with the 40th anniversary stuff," Culhane said. "I'm in my 12th year of amateur baseball and the A's are the only team I've been with, and this is something that is near and dear to me and our board. ... It'll be a great weekend to remember everyone that came before and what the A's have meant to them."