Minnetonka High School has a storied tradition of producing top-tier athletes in a wide variety of sports. But recently, the sheer abundance of elite athletes who wear Skippers baseball jerseys has many spectators turning their heads. The Minnetonka boys’ baseball team came into the 2016 spring season with a handful of players who already had a file with college scouts from around the country. Some were verbally committed to Division I college programs before the first pitch of the season was even thrown.
Division I Dreams
So where does all of this incredible talent come from?
“It all comes back to the Minnetonka community,” says Paul Twenge, head coach of the Minnetonka High School varsity baseball team. “We’re really designed to lead them from the ground up, starting at the various younger levels.” Now Twenge has the privilege of seeing the fruits of the community’s labor on his own lineup card every single game of the season.
Among the “core four” 2016 juniors who already have offers from Division I baseball programs are Jimmy Ramsey, Ben Livorsi, Nate Shoemaker and Sam Thoresen. And while Twenge, the Skippers’ skipper, deserves a lot of credit for the varsity team’s success over the past decade, he’s humble—he insists on praising the whole program. “We try to model our program almost like a Major League Baseball organization,” Twenge says. “Like the professionals, we try to have [consistency] across all age levels, and you can see that in how we play.” That consistency allows elementary- and middle school-age players to have an in-depth understanding of what is expected of them if they wish to have success as a Minnetonka High School Skipper. Twenge acknowledges the work of the Minnetonka Baseball Association, the entity that organizes the area’s youth and Little League programs. “If it was not for the Minnetonka Baseball Association,” says Twenge, “high school baseball would not be this healthy. They do a great job with our youth programs from instruction to coaching.”
(Clockwise from top left: Jimmy Ramsey, Ben Livorsi, Nate Shoemaker & Sam Thorsen)
Humble as he might be, many in the Minnetonka baseball community say the program’s success is largely the work of Twenge himself. He has almost a decade of high school coaching experience on his resume, as well as an insider’s perspective on what college coaches look for in potential recruits. Before taking the helm with the Skippers, Twenge coached at South Dakota State University, at Valparaiso University, and at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, leading the latter to state championship titles in back-to-back seasons in 1985 and 1986.
“Coach just brings a lot of experience to the table,” Nate Shoemaker says. “He knows so much about this game and is great at teaching us the ins and outs.” Twenge led his Skippers to a 15-10 record in 2015. He’s proud of the accomplishment, but he isn’t taking anything for granted, and says he wants to improve on last year’s record as the team heads into the new season. Twenge says that the returning talent on his squad has set some high expectations. “We’re [working with] so many great athletes on an annual basis,” Twenge says. “And this year we have five varsity players, major contributors, who are returning.”
With so many veterans at the varsity level set to return, it can be easy to get lost in the excitement of a prospective playoff run. But Twenge emphasizes his philosophy that good things come from hard work and dedication.
“Coach does a great job of keeping us accountable,” Ben Livorsi says. “He mostly just wants to get the maximum effort out of us every day.” And if this team performs at that level for the entire season, there’s no telling how far their talent could take them.
Two of the Skippers’ core four juniors already have plans to head to nationally ranked Division I programs. Right-handed pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Jimmy Ramsey has verbally committed to the University of Oregon, and catcher/third baseman Ben Livorsi has verbally committed to attend the St. Louis University.
Nate Shoemaker and Sam Thoresen are still deciding, but each have offers from a handful of college programs to choose from. Twenge says, “These guys already have a solid reputation with college scouts. And I’m thinking there will be a few others with offers in their hands come the end of the season.”
As a sophomore, Jimmy won the team’s 2015 Rookie of the Year award, thanks to his team-leading batting average (.467) and slugging percentage (.750). Ben, another key contributor for the Skippers in 2015, had the added challenge of changing positions pre-season. “Last year, I played third base instead of my usual catcher,” Ben says. “Coach Twenge really gave me some great insight into learning the new position, and that really helped a lot.”
While Ben thrived during his time as the team’s third baseman, he is excited to move back to his original position as the team’s everyday catcher. “I’m really excited to be able to call the pitching staff my own this season,” Ben says.
This spring’s team is undeniably awash in talent. So are there any big egos that get in the way? Not a chance, say the guys. Although they recognize that they’re getting attention from the press and from scouts, the players are focused on the game and the team. “Knowing there are scouts in the stands really shows how good our coach is,” Sam offers. “He’s done a really great job of developing us as a team.”
Keeping It Positive
Even with all of the accolades, college offers and championship opportunities, the Skippers know that baseball, at its heart, is about having fun. They play the game because they love it—and they’re quick to admit that there might be some friendly competition among friends. “Yeah, there might be a little bit of fun rivalry between us every now and then,” Sam says with a smile. “It’s mostly just trying to see who can throw the hardest or run the fastest.”
Besides being teammates during the academic year, these players have also bonded over the years playing summer baseball. While the varsity team’s development is the focus during the spring months, there’s a slightly different vibe during the summer season.
“We sometimes play against each other’s teams in the summer, and that’s where you really see the friendly competition,” Ben says. “It’s about bragging rights.”
Whether it’s for their summer Legion teams or with their school peers during the regular season, one thing is certain: The Skippers are expected to be the real deal in 2016.
“These guys give us a really good chance to have some success,” Twenge said. “They know how to execute as players.”
For the Minnetonka High School varsity baseball team’s schedule, visit tonkaskippers.org.