The Expedition League is an eight-team collegiate league that started this summer with five teams in the Dakotas, two in Nebraska and one in Wyoming. The team names include Sodbusters, Sasquatch, Big Sticks and Sabre Dogs.
There’s a clear message there and in the goofiness that has come in naming minor league and amateur teams around the country: We want you to buy our hats and T-shirts.
Puck Lusti, a representative of the Midway Snurdbirds, a Minnesota town ball team, said: “We keep a few hats in the trunk, just in case a fan from another town wants to make a purchase.’’
There’s no baseball nickname that reeks more of a desperate attempt to sell hats and T-shirts than Snurdbirds — except that it goes back more than four decades and the guys from nearby Menahga playing at the Midway ballpark were not marketers, but rather a collection of characters.
“I’m not sure how it started, but it was a term we used: If you were beating somebody bad, you were ‘snurding’ them,’’ Tim Lund said. “We were a bunch of loud mouths, and we were in the dugout before a game, saying how we were going to ‘snurd’ this team. Stan Sakkinen was the manager, shook his head and said, ‘Yeah, you’re just a bunch of snurdbirds.’ ”
This was in the mid-1970s. There had been a town team in Midway since 1951. In many cases, these were the sons and nephews of the Finns from Menahga that had first played their summer baseball in Midway.
And this second generation had been talking about finally attaching a nickname to the team. And there it was, in one moment of sarcasm from Sakkinen over all the loud talk:
Lund, a commercial artist, drew the first Snurdbird logo in 1978. Thirty years later, this generation of Snurdbirds asked for more aggressive logo.
“I like it a lot better,’’ Tim Lund said.
The aggressiveness was taken to heart. The 2010 Midway Snurdbirds — from the baseball hinterlands 30 miles east of Detroit Lakes — won the Class C championship. They did this with an unbeaten 5-0 run through the state tournament that included two victories over the Moorhead Brewers.
“A lot of those same guys are still with the Brewers, and that’s now a Class B power team,’’ Jake Lund said. “It was a crazy run. We won some tight games by playing amazing defense.’’
Jake is Tim’s nephew. He was 3-0 as a pitcher in the 2010 state tournament and was named the Class C’s tournament MVP.
There was no parade when the Snurdbirds returned to Midway that night, for good reason: There really is no Midway.
“It was a country store with a gas pump on County Road 47, midway between Menahga and Wolf Lake,’’ Jake Lund said. “My great uncle Hank owned the store. And Zach Etter, one of our players … his grandparents also owned it.’’
The country store closed long ago and is now a family home. The long-closed, one-room Midway school is also a family home. There’s a third house that’s part of a small horse ranch.
“And then the ballpark,’’ Jake Lund said. “That’s Midway.’’
It’s called Matt Leritz Field, in honor of the man that donated the land. “He gave the baseball team a 100-year lease in 1951,’’ Lund said. “I think we’re good, because I don’t think anyone could find the lease.’’
The Snurdbirds have a nucleus now in their mid-30s: Lund, Chris and Mike Baso, Pete Marjamaa, Etter, Brett Dormanen, Steve Wetterling, Drew Rasmussen, etc., with younger players such as Preston Riewer, Stetson Burkman and Cory Odland leading what the veterans hope is another generation of Midway baseball.
Burkman is a renowned name in Snurdbirds baseball, particularly Randy as a pitching legend. And Chris Baso, now the manager, is married to Kerri, a Burkman.
The Basos go back to the roots of Midway baseball. George Baso, 57, Chris’ and Mike’s father, played for more than two decades. He’s at every game and started one this summer in an emergency situation.
Chris was Midway’s standout catcher. He started a job in the Twin Cities and, in 2010, decided to play for Shakopee. His team played twice on Labor Day in Bird Island and won the Class B title.
“I was getting updates on Midway playing for the Class C title in Willmar,’’ Baso said. “I knew they had won by the time our second game ended. I joined the Shakopee celebration for a while, then said, ‘Hey, this team has a chance to do this again. For Midway, it’s once in a lifetime. I have to go see my guys.’
“Kerri was driving and I was crying all the way to Willmar. Thinking of my dad, the generations of Midway baseball … It was emotional.’’
Chris continued to work in the Twin Cities, but in 2014 he used the heritage rule to return to Midway. The Basos make the weekend commute, the two sets of grandparents in Menahga get to see the grandkids, and on Sunday, everyone gathers for the Snurdbirds.
There’s no long commute this weekend. The Snurdbirds, 23-4 this season, play potent Maple Lake at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Class C tournament — and it’s in Shakopee.