Zach Garner (right) celebrates with Taite Shelstad after scoring a run during a game against Rochester on June 30, 2021 at the Ath in Red Wing. Jake Pfeifer / Republican Eagle

RED WING — In 2020, the first team to step foot on the Ath was the Aces. That team capped off a season filled with uncertainty by punching its ticket to the state tournament. 

Despite the team’s success, however, it missed out on celebrating its 50-year anniversary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This summer the Aces are back to a full schedule and the festivities are ready as Red Wing hits the midway point of its season.

Time to celebrate

Originally scheduled for last summer, the Aces pushed its 50th gold anniversary celebration into this season to ensure it could be held at full capacity. Red Wing has had an amateur baseball team for much longer than 50 years, but the modern iteration of the Aces was founded in 1971. In that span, Red Wing made the state tournament 24 times and won three championships.

On Saturday, July 10, the Aces’ present will celebrate the team’s past as the Burnsville Bulldogs visit.

“Any alumni, board members, grounds crew — anyone that had any type of contribution to the team — we’re going to do on-field batting practice for them if they want,” Aces manager Justin Plein said. “We’ll bring the cage down to home plate, they can get in there and take some cuts for themselves, and then we’ll recognize everyone during the game — kind of make it a big celebration.”

There is no admission fee to attend the game and all alumni are welcome to come early to hit the batting cages or stay late. A pregame social will begin at 6 p.m., while first pitch is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Familiar faces but holes to fill

Aside from the big celebration on July 10, the Aces are also set to visit Miesville this Sunday for the annual Fourth of July game. Heading into the game, Red Wing sits at 12-12. In those first 24 games, Red Wing has received contributions from familiar faces but also had to find a way to plug some big holes left behind from last year’s core.

On the pitching front, the big losses for this season include Aaron Johnson and Teddy Tauer. Johnson is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, while Tauer is remaining in Florida after moving there last year to continue his development as a pitcher. On the offensive side, longtime Aces player Corey Tauer decided to hang up his cleats this year after being a consistent bat in the lineup for years.

The loss of those three has meant a need for contributions from past role players and increased production from last year’s regular contributors. On the mound Ben Kuehni and Sam Palmatier have stepped up to pitch important innings, while Brady Schroeder continues to impress as well.

“We’re slowly working him (Schroeder) back in because his arm has been a little sore this year but he’s slowly getting back there,” Plein said. “But Ben Kuehni and Sam Palmatier have really stepped up for us to pitch the big games.”

Although Johnson is unable to pitch this year, he has been taking some cuts at the plate, and doing it rather effectively.

“He’s been swinging the bat pretty well for us,” Plein said. “Zach Garner so far this year has also just been on a tear. I think he’s hitting almost .400 and driving the ball.”

Garner was in and out of the lineup in the past couple of years due to injury, but with a clean bill of health, he’s been the shot in the arm that the Aces needed with the loss of other key players.

“It gives us some position flexibility — he can play shortstop for us, he can also go over to first base,” Plein said. “And at the plate, he’s just on fire.”

Those contributors will need to continue their hot start to the season as the Aces still have 10 games on the schedule before playoffs begin and have been hovering around .500 all year. There are some notable trends however to take away from the early games. First among those is that of the Aces’ 12 losses, seven have been by one run — only two of their wins have been by the same margin. Second, the Aces have averaged more than eight runs per game since June. Before that, Red Wing averaged just four runs.

Finally, Red Wing has played only four Region 5C games so far. In those matchups, the Aces are 2-2, with the two losses coming against Lake City and Rochester. In the final portion of the season, Red Wing will face four more region teams with playoff seeding on the line.

“Over the next week and a half we’ve got a lot of big games,” Plein said. “We’ve won a couple of big games, but we’ve got to make sure we build off our recent games’ successes.”

Remaining schedule

at Miesville — 2 p.m. Sunday, July 4

at Faribault — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 7

at Lake City — 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 9

vs. Burnsville — 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 10

vs. Stewartville-Racine — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13

vs. Cannon Falls — 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 16

vs. Hastings — 2 p.m. Sunday, July 18

vs. St. Louis Park — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 21

vs. Bay City — 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23

at Hampton — 2 p.m. Saturday, July 24

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