MANKATO — Four years ago, when Paul Holzhueter decided to become the founder and general manager of the Mankato Cubs amateur baseball program, he knew he would have to do a lot of behind-the-scenes organizational tasks to keep the team running smoothly.
What he didn't bargain for was that he might actually have to play some games. At 58-years-old, that was not something he expected would be in his job description.
"Every once in awhile, we get short on players," he said. "We can either forfeit the game or they can put me in the lineup."
Such was the case Saturday afternoon when the Cubs took on the Cleveland Spiders. Holzhueter was pressed into service because only eight players, along with manager Troy Birhanzel, showed up.
The ÒveteranÓ held his own against the youngsters, drawing a walk, smacking an RBI grounder and scoring twice in four at-bats. He did not make an error at second base.
He has had to play in one game in each of the last three seasons. If he had his way, he'd never have to suit up for the team.
"I can still run and field OK, but I'm not much of a hitter," Holzhueter said. "Playing against 20 and 30-year-olds is not something I should be doing but, if I don't do it, there's no ballgame for anybody to play."
Born and raised in Waterloo, Wis. (near Madison), Holzhueter graduated from high school in 1972 and went on to the University of Wisconsin-Plateville where he played for four years. It was an under-funded, unremarkable program at the time but Holzhueter had fun playing all four years.
"I was an average player at best," he said. "I think my career batting average was around .220."
He took a job with Hubbard Milling in Mankato upon graduation from college in 1976 and, after a year with the Mankato Merchants amateur club, the team folded and Holzhueter turned his attention to fastpitch and slowpitch.
In 2001, he attended a Minnesota Twins Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla. It was there he learned about week-long baseball tournament for seniors at the same location in January. He started attending the Wood Bat Classic in 2002 and has gone down to Fort Myers every year since Ñ except for the winter he was recuperating from a kidney transplant.
"It's a lot of fun; you play with 40, 50, 60, even 70-year-olds. My brother Jim, who's now 71, goes down with me every year."
Holzhueter's association with the Cubs began in 2007 when he looked at the baseball landscape in Mankato and determined there was a need for another amateur team in town.
At the time, there was only the Mankato Twins which was made up largely of current and former college players.
"The Twins were a Class B-level team and it seemed the kids coming out of high school had no place to play," Holzhueter said. "My middle son Greg was fresh out of (Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School) and he had to play his first summer for Lake Crystal."
The elder Holzhueter went to work, canvassing the local high schools for potential players and then, when he determined there was more than enough to fill out a team, he applied for membership to the 13-60 League in the winter of 2007-08.
Membership was granted and the Cubs began their first season in the summer of 2009.
"Our core group was a bunch of kids Greg's age and a year younger," Holzhueter said. "Now most of them have graduated college and many have taken jobs or internships out of town. That's why we sometimes have trouble getting enough players to the game."
The GM said his priorities for next season are to find players who are committed to showing up on a regular basis and to find a more consistent form of funding.
"Right now the players pay a part of it and I cover the rest," he said. "I'd like to find a bunch of partial sponsors or maybe we could get a golf tournament going.
"But the main thing is to get enough players. We want guys who look at it as a privilege to play rather than option or an obligation."