EMERSON, Ga.—The Minnesota Blizzard Foundation Blue have made their way down from the North to compete in the 17u Perfect Game WWBA National Championship this week. The club is 1-1, taking its first game of the tournament with a 2-0 victory against the Scorpions South 2018 Black. In that game righthander Aidan Maldonado pitched a complete-game shutout, with four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts to earn the win.
The Blizzard hit a road bump on Sunday however, dropping the second game of the tournament to Building Champions Navy in a well-played 3-2 game.
“We all have a really sort memory, because we played a really great game team-wise there, and we’ll come back tomorrow and have a great mental attitude and hopefully take the dub and come out strong,” said right-handed pitcher Seth Halvorsen.
Halvorsen had a standout night on the mound, coming in in the fourth and pitching four innings of two-hit baseball with five strikeouts.
“I just go out there and like to keep it low in the zone,” said Halvorsen. “Get outs any way possible, don’t need to strike them out and just trust my team and do the best I can, and [have a] strong mental approach as well.”
He had an equally strong day at the plate, leading the team with two hits in three plate appearances.
“I just think 'see ball hit ball,'” said Halvorsen. “I don’t think about where to hit it, I take the ball where it is at the plate, so I took it to right a couple times.”
The Blizzard Foundation is located in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. It is a 501 (c) 3 offering kids, regardless of their background, the opportunity to play baseball.
“We just feel like everyone should be able to play the game of baseball,” said first baseman Tommy Springer. “And just see the lessons that it teaches.”
It has partnered with over 10 organizations such as Ronald McDonald House and Miracle League within the Twin Cities to better the community. The foundation began after Blizzard player, Johnny Price passed away in 2015. Price was a power-hitting outfielder and right-handed pitcher who exemplified the same enthusiasm on the field, as he did off, always participating in team bonding events and serving as a leader to younger players.
In addition to outreach, the Blizzard Foundation helps those within the program through the Johnny Price Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is given to a senior player who best embodies strong qualities both on and off the baseball field.
The main Blizzard facility has four hitting cages. On the weekends during the colder months, the organization rents out the Vadnais Dome for practice.
“A lot of times those practices will start at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings. We got kids that are driving a couple hours to make those practices, and that just talks about the commitment and their drive to become better,” said head coach Andrew Woitas.
Although it is a lot of effort to beat the weather in the colder months, it does not stop the program from placing players in top Division I programs around the country.
“This program has brought a ton of people up to go to college, there’s been so many college commitments,” said Halvorsen. “I think if they would have gone to a different program, I don’t know if they would be going to [play] in college. We just have a lot of great coaches at Blizzard, it’s fun playing with that team.”
There are six college commits on Blizzard Foundation Blue. Third baseman Charlie Fischer will attend Southern Mississippi, right-hander Ben Smith is committed to North Dakota State, catcher Nicholas Juaire is headed to TCU, while Maldonado will pitch for the Fighting Illini, and both Halvorsen and Springer will play at Missouri.
“It speaks to the program and our success in having kids that want to play with the best kids in our state,” said Woitas. “We are able to draw them in that way, and I think these kids really work hard too.”
The Blizzard travels to Georgia once a-year during the summer, and also attends Perfect Game fall events in Arizona.
“It helps us a lot, we see really good competition,” said Woitas. “It allows our kids from a northern state, where it is tougher to get in front of different scouts to be able to do that. So it’s been a fantastic experience whenever we come to these tournaments.”
A state like Minnesota does not receive high attention for being a well-known area for competitive baseball, but notable names from the North Star State include Joe Mauer, Ike Davis, Sammy Solis and Brand Hand, an alumnus of the Blizzard program.
“It’s good competition in Minnesota I think, but coming down here, you’re playing the best in the nation, so I just think it’s a really fun tournament and the best there is. I just have a blast out here with my team,” said Halvorsen.
Team chemistry is one of the strengths Blizzard has identified in taking them far into the National Championship, with enough talent on the field to make a deep run a possibility, in the end, the organization as a whole is just as focused on developing character as it does talent.
“This program has helped me progress as a person overall,” said Springer. “Just mature as a human being, know how to talk to people and just play the game the right way.”