By Douglas Farmer —
This is a story only possible in 2017, both because the most ubiquitous status update is a video designed to be temporary from the outset and because this year marks the La Crosse Loggers’ 15th season.
If that last thought makes you feel old, the sentiment is mutual. This column’s constant heading derives from the location of a pair of season tickets from the Loggers’ debut season in 2003.
It was a few years later when Eric Thames hit three home runs and drove in 43 RBIs in one Northwoods League season. To my memory, I saw one of those balls clear the wall.
Thus, when I received a Snapchat from my college roommate this past May of him sitting three rows behind home plate at Wrigley Field with the Brewers visiting, I told him to keep an eye on Thames.
I should have expected that response. My college roommate is from Honduras. He was at the game to enjoy a few beers with two friends who ran a half-marathon that morning. The baseball was superfluous, at best.
I mentioned I saw Thames a decade ago in La Crosse and this season he is near the league lead with, at the time, 13 home runs.
“What has he been doing since then? The other guys have never heard of him.”
That makes some sense. Unlike other former Loggers now holding court in the Major Leagues—specifically, pitchers Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, both leading their respective leagues in strikeouts depending how recently their last start was—Thames took a roundabout way to starting for the Brewers at first base.
In this case, roundabout means Korea, where he spent the last three seasons. Thames’ star turn in the Korea Baseball Organization drew the Brewers’ interest. His previous time spent in Wisconsin was merely a coincidence.
Sure, a coincidence that led to a Honduran learning about Korean baseball thanks in no small part to the most miserable form of social media, but a Badger State coincidence, nonetheless.
And therein lies the point. Thames may stand out as a former Logger because he and his intriguing backstory are catapulting the Brewers up the division standings, but Thames is not the only former Logger enjoying rampant Major League success. Scherzer and Sale are two of the best in the game right now. In the Loggers’ second season, Scherzer was the one pacing them to a first-half division championship.
Having seen Scherzer that season, praising him now feels much more legitimate, just like showing up a few Chicago know-it-alls through a Honduran intermediary made that Thames memory stand out even more in my mind.
Then I pointed out that I inevitably saw 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist in the Loggers’ debut season. He didn’t play for La Crosse, but he did play in the Northwoods League in 2003.
Those games may be just down the street at Copeland Park, but some of 2028’s best players are playing there. There is no better chance to see them than now.
Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.