Almanac Note: The following was submitted by the Rum River Bandits—a townball team in Cambridge, MN. They asked if I could help get this article out to the Minnesota baseball community.
The Rum River Bandits opened their inaugural season in 2007 in response to the number of guys in the area that loved baseball and wanted to continue their baseball careers after high school. Last Saturday’s game in Princeton may have been their last game. Coming through the loser’s bracket on a magical run, the Bandits loss to Chisago Lakes left them one game away from a trip to the State Tournament. “These guys played their hearts out with some fabulous baseball,” exclaimed Rum River manager Tom Koplitz. “I guess you can see why they wanted us out last year when we were on a similar roll.” The Bandits were on a 6-0 run in the last couple weeks last season and won six of their last eight this year. Last season ended when the Bandits were kicked out of the playoffs for using an illegal player who was approved during the season by the same managers that voted to kick them out, an unforgiving ending to what may have been their best chance to get to the State Tournament.
This year’s Bandits regular season record was very deceiving. “We had our full squad together for the first time all year in the region tournament. I knew that once we had them all together, we were at least the third- or fourth-best team in the Eastern Minny.” The Bandits had players scattered all over Minnesota with guys coming to games from Faribault, Duluth, Monticello, St. Louis Park, and Minneapolis. “After playing and managing town team baseball for 52 years, this year’s Bandits is my favorite team of them all. These guys were so fun to be around, great effort, great attitudes, and good players who could play multiple positions — a manager’s dream!”
Two Bandits have been the foundation of the team since 2007: Mike Koplitz and Kevin Auth, both rarely missing a game over the past 17 seasons. “They have been the bedrock of the Bandits since we started.” Other players have 10-plus years on the team. “Town team baseball is a veteran’s game. As great an asset as youth can be, guys who have been through every situation and know how to react is special, and that really surfaced in the region tournament.”
With multiple players either retiring or thinking about hanging up the spikes, next year is up in the air. The 71-year-old Koplitz—a 2017 Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame inductee—has decided to walk away, citing three grand children, a wife retiring next spring, and aches and pains from just carrying the equipment. “It’s tough to leave a team like this.” Koplitz also cited the all too frequent injustices at the state level as very frustrating and unfair to so many players, teams, and communities as a major disappointment. “Removing the opportunity for guys to just play the game they love and have fun is inexcusable. Almost all disqualifications are due to clerical errors, not teams trying to take advantage of the rules, especially when there are teams that get away with it to bolster their team.”
As for next year, no one has stepped forward yet to take the reins. “If the Rum River Bandits are history, what a fantastic story it has been!”
—Rum River Bandits