Three Libby Loggers Legion baseball players will move on, for the time being, to college and new athletic challenges.
Oliver Grupenhoff and Jared Winslow are leaving the Libby Loggers and are headed to college at Montana State University Billings. Another standout, Luke Haggerty, will leave and attend Miles Community College in Miles City.
Haggerty said all three will come back in 2015 to play one last time for the Loggers.
Winslow, who will be pitching for the baseball team at MSU-Billings, grew up in Libby, while Grupenhoff, who will try out for the team as a walk-on, grew up an hour away in Noxon. Haggerty, who is from Troy and was raised in the Yaak, is moving a little farther east to be a walk-on player for the Miles City team.
Winslow, who recently tore a ligament in his elbow, is gearing for a fast recovery as he anticipates playing for MSU-Billings. He’s going to study pre-physical therapy, a move sparked by his injury. Grupenhoff will study business marketing, and Haggerty is going to study elementary school education.
Winslow said what he’ll miss most are the people in Libby who have been so kind to him, and how close-knit the community is.
“I’ll miss having the team and my friends around all the time,” Haggerty said. “It’s going to be weird not hanging with Willy and Jared all the time.”
Why baseball for these new college students? Grupenhoff, Winslow and Haggerty played basketball and football, and Winslow’s dad was the basketball coach for years. They both could have pursued any of the three sports as they moved to college, but they both decided baseball was the only path suited to them.
For them, it’s the team that matters.
“It’s a total team game,” Winslow said. “In the other sports, there can be one guy who can take over everything and take the game. Not with baseball. If everything goes right, it’s because of the team. If everything goes wrong, it’s because of the team. You are in it together.”
The Loggers rallied together and showed their team’s strength the strongest two years ago when the team went to district, Grupenhoff said. The underdog Loggers beat two ranked teams at the tournament and, with nine players, ended up with a third-place finish.
“And there’s nothing like hitting a ball right when you’re at bat,” Grupenhoff said. “Nothing like it.”
Admiring players from the Phillies’ Cliff Lee to the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, the two young men have a high gaze toward the future.
“To stand under the bright lights at the World Series would be a dream,” Winslow said. “Getting to that level would be awesome.”
Haggerty said all three players are going to come back next year to bring back some college expertise and play with the Loggers one last time.
Further down the road, whether it’s at the World Series or a district tournament, Grupenhoff and Winslow both said that baseball diamonds will continue to be on their path, to Billings and beyond.
“Baseball will be a part of me forever,” Grupenhoff said. “Hopefully I’ll coach someday. But it’ll definitely always be a part of my life.”