Dodgers leaning on leadership
Upperclassmen anchor Fort Dodge’s baseball lineup for the upcoming season
A veteran group of players will help lead the Fort Dodge baseball team, while trying to mentor Dodger youngsters who are itching to get on the field.
Nine upperclassmen — including six seniors — will be the guiding force for the Dodgers in 2022.
“Our seniors have done a great job of leading,” said FDSH head coach Blake Utley, who enters his 10th season at the helm. “They led the offseason workouts and prior to the year, they’ve done an excellent job preparing the program.
“Some of our upperclassmen have come up to me and said ‘that guy can play’ about these younger players. The juniors and seniors can have a huge impact on our young players. With this group, it isn’t me, it’s we. This is a player-led team.”
Only two weeks into the campaign and with two games already under their belt, Utley likes what he is seeing.
“This is one year in which having only two weeks to prepare is beneficial,” Utley said. “We have a lot of guys with varsity experience. Guys like Drake (Callon), Carson (Peterson) and Jace (Ulrich) have been with us since they were freshmen. Alex (Underwood), Eli (Elsbecker) and Triston (Bockoven) have played a lot over the last few years, too.
“With short preparation time, we just have to prioritize what we need to do. We have to use practice days to get in more repetition, so we can touch on things a little more.”
The Dodgers put together a 19-20 record a year ago, earning their most wins since 2015-2016. From that staff, Fort Dodge returns six pitchers with regular varsity innings.
“Depth-wise we are as strong as we have been in a long time,” Utley said. “A lot of our guys have been competitive at the varsity level for a long time.
“We have our veteran guys and a slew of freshmen who are developing, but if we need to, there are a handful that we can bring in.”
Utley loves the fact that this group is extremely coachable.
“The game of baseball can be mentally challenging,” Utley said. “Unlike other sports, if you make a mistake, everyone in attendance knows who did it. These seniors have been through it, and know that one at-bat or one walk isn’t going to determine your season. I’ve seen a lot of growth.
“These guys have confidence and have bought into the team concept. We talk about one heartbeat. We’re a team that can get into a rhythm.”
Peterson, a senior and a four-year starter, is the jack of all trades for the Dodgers. When he is not pitching, Peterson will be the starting second baseman. He’s also been at shortstop and third base at different points in his career.
Last season Peterson batted .294 with four home runs, 25 RBI and 26 runs scored.
“Carson is a guy that we can put anywhere,” Utley said. “He can play all nine positions.”
Starting at catcher for the Dodgers will be sophomore Grant Williams. Peterson will back him up, along with sophomore Landon Hout.
“I think our defense lines up well. Most of our infielders have been around the block,” Utley said. “Guys like Eli, Carson and (junior) Dalton (Rosalez) can play second, short or third.
“As the season goes, (sophomore Drew) Moritz will be out there. He had a good offseason and loves the game of baseball. We have guys in the freshman class like Jase Nekvinda and Koy Davidson who have that same mentality.”
At first base will be Ulrich, another senior, and junior Carson Werning. Ulrich, a first team all-CIML selection a year ago, hit .320 with eight home runs, a team-high 44 RBI and 30 runs scored.
Backing up Peterson at second base will be Moritz, who saw action in Fort Dodge’s season opening sweep of Des Moines East.
“Our biggest question mark is our batting order,” Utley said. “We have guys that are coming back and taking strides, but we have to work to get better and find consistency at the plate.”
In his senior campaign, Elsbecker will cover shortstop. Elsbecker batted .277 with 21 RBI and 20 runs scored in 2021. Peterson will back up Elsbecker.
On the corner will be Rosalez and Peterson.
“I feel a lot of our guys are interchangeable,” Utley siad. “We have Davidsion, who is coming along and getting better every day as a freshman.
“Knowing we have guys that are nipping at the heels of our starters is a good feeling. More competition is a positive.”
Callon will man center field for the Dodgers, a year after hitting .325. He drove in 21 runs, returns as the hit leader (38) and had the most runs scored (43).
Callon has also been a threat on the bases. He had 32 steals and was only caught once, which was the best in the CIML Iowa Conference and fourth best in Class 4A.
Underwood will play right field for Fort Dodge. He hit .238 for the Dodgers.
Senior Ethan Baade and Bockoven will also be starters in the outfield.
“Ethan has made a huge turn,” Utley said. “In the first two weeks, he has impressed me the most with his work.”
Underwood, Peterson, Bockoven and Elsbecker will be at the top of the rotation, along with Ulrich, Callon, Werning and Rosalez.
Underwood logged the most innings a year ago, going 48-plus with a 5.03 ERA. He was 3-5 with 22 strikeouts.
Peterson pitched 37 innings with a 4-4 record. He had 38 strikeouts. Bockoven, who was injured last season, is back in the rotation. Elsbecker compiled a 1-1 mark in 17-plus innings.
Ulrich went 25-plus innings with 26 strikeouts. Callon was 5-2 with 26 strikeouts. Werning logged 12 innings.
“Carson goes out and competes,” Utley said. “Eli just loves baseball and is throwing a lot harder. Drake and Triston were battling some arm issues, but they’re gamers.
“Carson Werning and Dalton have been pitching solid as well.”
After a sweep of Des Moines East on Tuesday, the Dodgers are back in action on Friday at Carroll.
Their home opener will be on Monday against long-time rival Mason City, before taking on North Central Conference power Webster City.
The Dodgers also go across town to play on the new turf at Rogers Park in the St. Edmond Memorial Day Tournament on May 30.
“Our schedule is as good as it gets…it’s as tough as any in the state,” Utley said. “Waukee Northwest jumps in and makes it even more challenging in the CIML Iowa. Ankeny Centennial had strong freshman and sophomore teams last year. Ankeny returns a lot of guys (from their state squad), and Mason City is always solid. Ames will be good.
“We have a good mixture of opponents.”
Utley will be assisted by Connor McLeod, Matt Elsbecker, Dylan Anderson, Jared Benson, Rick Pederson and Easton Cone.
After 10 years away from the dugout, Elsbecker — the program’s successful former head coach — is back and in charge of the pitchers and catchers.
Sophomore coaches will be Anderson and Benson.
Pederson will be the freshman coach, and will be assisted by Cone, his nephew and a former Dodger infielder.
Seniors — Triston Bockoven, Ethan Baade, Drake Callon, Jace Ulrich, Eli Elsbecker, Alex Underwood, Carson Peterson.
Juniors — Dalton Rosalez, Carson Werning, Nathan Beekman.
Sophomores — Ty Adams, Drew Moritz, Corbin Cooper, Grant Williams, Landon Hout, Carter Nekvinda, Jace Johnson.
Freshmen — Royce Pederson, Landen Grandors, Koy Davidson, Jase Nekvinda.
May 19 – at Carroll, 7 p.m.; May 23 — Mason City, 5 p.m.; 24 — Webster City, 7:30 p.m.; 27 — Clinton (at Waterloo), 4 p.m.; 27 — Sioux City East (at Waterloo), 6 p.m.; 30 — West Marshall (Rogers Park), 10 a.m.; 30 — St. Edmond (Rogers Park), 2:30 p.m.; 31 — Ankeny Centennial, 5 p.m.
June 2 — Waukee Northwest, 5 p.m.; 7 — Southeast Polk, 7 p.m.; 8 — at Ames, 5 p.m.; 10 — at Algona, 7:30 p.m.; 13 — Ankeny, 5 p.m.; 15 — at Marshalltown, 5 p.m.; 16 — at Mason City, 5 p.m.; 20 — at Ankeny Centennial, 5 p.m.; 23 — Des Moines Roosevelt, 5 p.m.; 24 — at Sioux City North, 5 p.m.; 27 — Ames, 5 p.m.; 29 — at Ankeny, 5 p.m.; 30 — at Waukee Northwest, 5 p.m.
July 5 — Marshalltown, 5 p.m.; 6 — Des Moines Lincoln, 5 p.m.