I remember the first time I spoke to John Baggs. He was so proud of his St. Scholastica baseball team, which was playing in NAIA at the time. In that season, they would earn the right to host an NAIA Super Regional. They lost the series, but it was a sign this program was unquestionably moving in the right direction.
For the Northland, having a high-quality baseball program was kind of a new thing. UMD has a tradition of being competitive, but they were rarely a threat to win a national title.
Under Baggs, the Saints became an elite small-college baseball program. He won over 500 games in 17 years, and his teams won 12 straight UMAC baseball titles, and they had their best-ever finish in an NCAA regional (second) this past season.
Baggs lost his battle with a rare form of cancer Tuesday morning. At just 42, far too young to be taken from us. He is survived by his wife and two young children.
John had his son Maddux (yes, named after Greg) penciled into the CSS rotation for 2019. And why not? If he could teach other people's children how to pitch, he surely could teach his own.
He was a devoted Cub fan who loved to taunt me with stories of how much my Brewers stunk. And what could I say in response, since they were usually true?
There was the day John called me and pitched an idea for a radio segment. He wanted to interview me. Got tired, I guess, of me asking him questions, which was normally how the radio thing worked.
He asked me over 30 questions. I had to answer all of them, or he was going to drag me out for a round of golf. Since I hate golf, I was happy to oblige.
John was a joy to know, because he had such passion for baseball. He understood the game like so few people do. In an area where baseball is not a high priority, and where it can be hard to develop a great program because of the limitations put on you by the weather, the success Baggs enjoyed had a great impact.
Not only did it give fans an elite program to follow, but it also raised the proverbial bar for everyone else. Baggs disciple Eddy Morgan is the third-year coach at longtime doormat UWS now, and there have already been signs of life. A program that won just three games the season before he arrived won 17 last year, for their most wins since 1974.
It's fitting that a guy who wasn't just a baseball coach would be able to - even indirectly - help a neighbor program get on its feet. Ask any of his former players, and they'll tell you about what kind of man John Baggs was. Same for St. Scholastica faculty, local media, and any fans who were fortunate enough to meet him.
Please take some time to leave your thoughts here. And if you are the type who prays, please do so, for John's family, as well as the St. Scholastica family.