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ISSUE 120 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/4/2007

'Dugout Girls' boost squad: Student managers valuable assets to Ole baseball

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, May 4, 2007

What wins championships? Is it dominating pitching? Clutch hitting? Outstanding defense?

Or perhaps something more?

No St. Olaf team knows more about winning than the Oles of the baseball diamond. St. Olaf has won 25 conference championships, gained eight consecutive MIAC tournament berths and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in two of its past four seasons. Players like Brian Sprout '02, Charlie Ruud '04 and Andrew Schmiesing '08 have been essential in the Oles' success, making St. Olaf a force to be reckoned with in MIAC baseball.

Yet sometimes the little things make all the difference in the world. Just ask baseball student managers Vanessa Witt '07 and Wendy Kelly '07.

"We've got an All-American, won 16 games in a row this year and played in the NCAA Tournament last spring," Witt said. "Is it a coincidence that all this success came to the team when the DGs came? You decide."

The "DGs" (short for "Dugout Girls"), as Witt and Kelly are known, are a one-of-a-kind pair in the world of Ole athletics. Many St. Olaf teams have student managers (the football team has as many as five or six some seasons), yet few are as enthusiastic, involved or beloved as Witt and Kelly.

"[Vanessa and Wendy's] impact goes far beyond just the baseball field," said pitcher Alex Beckman '09 about the duo. "It's all about lightening the mood and creating long-lasting friendships."

The story of how the "DGs" came to be is an interesting one. Following the 2005 baseball season, longtime student managers Mike Cassano '05 and David Short '05 graduated, leaving an opening for new managers. But as Witt and Kelly found out, student manager jobs aren't obtained through the traditional hiring process.

"Vanessa and I had talked to Cassano about being managers before he left," Kelly said. "A bunch of our friends were going to be off-campus [during the spring of '06], so we knew we'd have some free time. It seemed like a perfect fit."

"It was a little awkward when we approached [baseball coach] Matt McDonald," said Witt about the pair's quest to land their current positions. "He didn't really know how to handle us at first, but said, 'There's always room for enthusiastic people in the program in the end.'"

"Enthusiastic," as it turned out, was an understatement. Witt and Kelly have attended nearly every baseball practice and game (home and away) over the past two years, which is no small feat in a season that lasts from the beginning of February through the end of May. The Dugout Girls' "official" duties may not be numerous, but they are important on a team that usually carries about 40 players.

"The most important thing we do is make the experience of baseball more

enjoyable, which usually consists of doing stuff at practice to make it go smoothly," Kelly said. "When the team is indoors, we raise and lower nets, put in bases, move around screens and equipment or hold the radar gun for the pitchers."

Yet even such seemingly innocuous tasks don'’t come without hazards, as Witt found out last year.

"Sometimes I 'catch off' during fielding or batting practice," Witt said. "This can be scary if the outfielders or third basemen throw short-hops at my shins or curveballs to me. I've only mildly hurt myself once, when I took a ball to the leg."

"I also jumped out of the way of a ball once that then rocked Coach Mac [McDonald] in the leg, which was kind of embarrassing," Witt revealed.

The DGs' biggest impact, however, comes off the field. They're a fixture during the team's countless practices and a constant presence in the dugout before, during and after games, bringing levity and a little "extra something" to the competitive atmosphere of the sport.

"They [the DGs] are vital to our success," said catcher Kyle McDermott '07. "We couldn't be as successful if we were without the necessities that they bring to the ballpark, more specifically, the "Ground Ball Grape" Big League Chew bubble gum and sunflower seeds they supply us with on game days."

Over the course of their tenure as student managers, Witt and Kelly have been accepted as full-fledged members of the team. The two were the main organizers of a charity baseball player date auction during Saturday's doubleheader against St. Thomas, raising money for the victims of the Virginia Tech tragedy, and they work tirelessly to promote the team throughout the year.

"Vanessa and Wendy are two very special people," said 2006 MIAC Pitcher of the Year Eric Tobias '06, who is also president of a Facebook group in the pair's honor. "Their duties as DG's bring an unseen dynamic to the dugout, and their passion and commitment to the game is unparalleled."

"Sure, they bring the seeds, but they are so much more than that."

As graduating seniors, both Witt and Kelly are enjoying their last days with the St. Olaf baseball team. With so many positive memories gained over the past two seasons, it was difficult for either member of the duo to narrow down their favorite moments.

"Mostly, I've enjoyed making 40-plus new friends in the last year and a half," said Witt, who also serves as SGA president and will begin a job with Target Corporation this summer. "Everyone in this program is terrific, ranging from the coaches, to the players, to the parents and the fans. I'm so proud to be an Ole and being a part of the baseball team is a wonderful embodiment of that."

With a number of important players returning for the 2008 season and beyond, the Oles will undoubtedly be competitive on the field for a long time to come. Yet, without the Dugout Girls around, something will definitely be missing when the team takes the field next spring.

"Vanessa and Wendy accepted me for who I am, and I'm kind of a little brother to them," catcher Patrick Wadzinski '09 said. "I wouldn't call them "Dugout Girls" at all; it's more like sisters."

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