NORWOOD YOUNG AMERICA, Minn. (KMSP) - The Young America Cardinals is a team with deep roots in the community, making it quite the family affair for many of the players - some with relatives spanning decades of past team rosters.
“That’s one thing about my boys, when they were young I never had to look for them because I knew where they were at – that was right here,” said Virgil Zellman.
Eighty-year-old Virgil Zellman embodies Young America baseball. A former Cardinals player and manager, he’s not only in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, he and his family are woven into the fabric of the Cardinals.
“Well, I played a lot of sandlot baseball and the town team was looking for ball players in ’53. The Korean War came in and they were short on ballplayers, so I joined the team and I played every game since,” Zellman said.
It’s a love he passed on to his son, Terry.
“I was a bat boy and used to hang the canvas out here,” said Terry Zellman, a former Cardinals player and current team board member. “I was short enough to do the outfield lower fence and I hung canvas and I’ve been out here ever since, too.”
The Stender family is also intertwined. In the 1970s, Doug Stender bought the house across the street to be close to the field - and you have to wonder what his wife thought of that.
“Well, it was easy for her to say goodbye because she knows she could get ahold of me,” laughed Doug Stender, who is the team’s assistant manager. “I played until I was 44, 45. I started in ’69, so that’s quite a few years. My favorite, most cherished moment was when [my son] Brandon pitched and I got to catch him. I would say that’s my favorite. I think I was 41 and he was 17.”
“It’s an opportunity that I cherish and will always love,” said Brandon Stender, Doug’s son and current Cardinals player. “Can’t imagine a life without [town ball] to be honest with you. It’s so intertwined with everything I’ve always done that I can’t imagine life without it.”
“Having the opportunity to have two of my cousins co-managing, having three or four other cousins on the team,” said Jeremy Stender, a Cardinals board member. “We’ve got a lot of those family connections. On this team when you look up and down the roster, you’ll see a lot of the same names. That’s just kind of what makes this fun. It’s a family kind of deal.”
“That’s why I keep playing just to kind of pass it on to [my kids] and to know that this is a fun place to be, where families can grow,” said Matt Mann, a Cardinals player.
The next generation not only embraces the game, but this town and the rich history and they love their place in it with all their heart.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Isaac Hormann, Cardinals catcher and Concordia catcher. “I’ve been part of the team since I was four. I was the bat boy when my dad played. So I live a block away from the park, so basically it’s where I grew up. I used to come up here every summer night and play wiffle ball in center field... now I get to wear the jersey and actually play for the Cardinals.”