Article by Samantha Roering. Photo by Samantha Roering, 

For most college students, the summer serves as a time to reconnect with friends, forget about the stress of school, and take a step back from it all. For others, the summer brings new opportunities. Collegiate athletes, specifically, must find a wise way to spend their summer. They need to stay in shape, gain more experience, and continue to make improvements in their sport. Many of those young athletes look for summer leagues to join.

In the case of college baseball players, the Northwoods League is the perfect destination to play summer ball. The amateur league runs from the beginning of June till mid-August and is a logistical fit for college athletes. From Minot, North Dakota, to Kokomo, Indiana, the Midwest league has been a landing spot for many up-and-coming baseball stars.

St. Cloud, Minnesota is home to a successful Northwoods team, the St. Cloud Rox. The Rox play home games at Joe Faber Field, the same field SCSU Huskies play at during the spring. That makes it convenient and gives SCSU players more reason to stick around for the summer.

This season, 5 Huskies appeared in a St.Cloud Rox game, and a few even got to play in the Northwoods League Championship. Fans of SCSU’s baseball team who caught a Rox game this summer might have recognized Kevin Butler, Ethan Navratil, John Nett, Sawyer Smith, and Payton VanBeck.

The capacity in which these Huskies participated was different from player to player. Payton Vanbeck only made one start for the St. Cloud Rox, while John Nett played in 45 games. Regardless of how long they played with the Rox, each player’s unique experience with the team provided an opportunity to continue to play baseball at a high level.

Two players who made an impact for the Rox were Kevin Butler and Sawyer Smith. While neither started the season with the Rox, both ended up being important pieces to the team in the regular season and postseason.

Sawyer Smith, after finishing his sophomore season with SCSU spent the beginning of his Northwoods season with the Kenosha Kingfish. In 15 games with the Kingfish, he hit .234/.333/.277. Then, in 29 regular season games with the St. Cloud Rox, he hit .268/.413/.340.

Kevin Butler also had wrapped up his sophomore season with SCSU before coming to the Northwoods League. Though he only played in 13 regular season games for the Rox, he made a difference in the games he played in. In those games, he hit .342/.509/.463.

Both Smith and Butler got the opportunity to contribute to the team in the postseason. In the first postseason game against the Willmar Stingers, Smith walked twice and came around to score a run on one of them. In the second game, Butler and Smith each walked once, with Smith also picking up a hit and an RBI groundout.

In the Great Plains League Championship, Sawyer Smith picked up an early single, coming around to score later in the inning and contributing to their early lead. It was an intense back-and-forth game, but the Rox walked it off in the 9th to advance to the Northwoods League Championship.

Smith and Butler each reached base once in the Northwoods League Championship, where the Rox fell 4-3 to the Green Bay Rockers. Though a tough loss, players gained more experience playing in a postseason atmosphere, which is huge for young athletes.

Kevin Butler and Sawyer Smith, among many other Huskies, will return to St. Cloud State to continue their collegiate baseball careers in the spring. Unlike other Huskies, they now have championship experience in the amateur leagues.

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