Monday's Northwoods League All-Star Luncheon switched from being a back-slapathon into a fatherly advice session pretty quickly Monday afternoon.
After hearing numerous mother-in-law jokes from master of ceremonies Dick Jankowski and viewing a video that featured players repeatedly saying what an honor it was to be selected for the Monday night's all-star game, set for 7 p.m. at Warner Park, the assembled players, families, league officials, team representatives and fans got a bit of a lecture.
Former major league all-star Greg Vaughn, who played with the Milwaukee Brewers from 1989 to 1996, is working as a special consultant for the LaCrosse Loggers this season, where his son, Cory, is playing in the outfield. It's clear from his talk at Monday's luncheon that the elder Vaughn takes his role as mentor seriously.
"Baseball is a beautiful game," he said. "You have to enjoy it. But you've been given a tremendous opportunity here."
The Northwoods League is a summer collegiate baseball league with teams in Minnesota, Ontario, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Teams play over 60 games in a season with wood bats, ensuring it as a proving ground for players hoping to be drafted and someday play professionally.
Vaughn's remarks included wisdom passed along to him by the likes of Brewers teammates Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner, who manages the league's Wisconsin Woodchucks and was in attendance Monday. He said Yount took him aside early in his career and told him the only thing a baseball player can control in a game is his effort. His tone made it sound like he was speaking directly to his son, a sophomore-to-be at San Diego State who will play in Monday's all-star game.
"I played with three or four Hall of Famers," Vaughn said. "They could go 0-for-4 or 3-for-4 and they always played the same way. I've seen guys in this league hit fly balls and never touch first base, throw their helmets, yell… that's not the way to play the game."
Northwoods League president Dick Radatz underscored that sentiment, saying the biggest development in the league this year is that every team is streaming video broadcasts of their games over the web. He told a story about sitting with a major league scout at a game in Rochester where a young reliever closed the game by striking out the side. When the scout called his supervisor to file his report from the game, he discovered the supervisor had just seen the reliever's performance live.
"Everyone's watching," said Radatz. "And not just tonight when the game will be on national TV."
Vaughn also reminded the players of how fortunate they were to be playing in the Northwoods League, where the fan excitement is far greater than in the Cape Cod League, a similar outfit in New England.
"I played in Tampa, and some of y'all draw more fans than we did," he said. "I played on some bad teams."