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Celebrating the 25th Season of the Gopher State Baseball League

By Dawson Blanck, 05/03/24, 1:30PM CDT


Dawson's Desk- May, 2024

To say a lot has changed since I joined MYAS 25 years ago is an understatement. I was a fish out of water, having just graduated from college and an evolving space in baseball administration. I was hired in November of 1999 during a time of transition for MYAS in youth baseball.

During the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons, MYAS proudly served as the administrative service agent for the Metro Baseball League (MBL). This league brought together community-based youth baseball teams from various cities across the Twin Cities and surrounding areas.

However, philosophical differences soon led to a split between the MYAS and the MBL. After careful consideration and voting among participating associations, Metro Baseball took on the role of administering community-based travel baseball for associations located south of Interstates 394 and 94. Meanwhile, Dan Klinkhammer, former MYAS Executive Director, spearheaded efforts to support youth baseball associations on the north side of the metro area.

In the year 2000, MYAS launched the Gopher State Baseball League (GSBL) to fill the void left by the split with Metro Baseball. During its inaugural season, the GSBL offered two levels of play and welcomed just over 100 teams comprised of youth baseball players aged 10-15. This marked the beginning of a new chapter in youth baseball administration for MYAS, one that continues to thrive and evolve to this day.

How about this for a throwback memory: We had to lug portable copy machines to in-person scheduling sessions! I led those scheduling meetings, where we had to create all of the matchups — and the process took forever.

In those early days, I was an entrepreneur, trying to build this brand and build this league. That put a premium on relationships with directors, association presidents, coaches, and parents. I had to remember names, where people were from, details about their children, etc.

The relationships grew, and people felt they could call me, and I would call them. Over the years, there were some difficult conversations that typically involved something that transpired at a game or a tournament. These conversations provided valuable constructive criticism that really helped us evolve and continue to grow. But overall, I had a great rapport with so many folks. I remember people used to call me the human Rolodex!

That's something that I impress upon the MYAS team today – there is still a need for human interactions, the relationships that can't be developed behind an email or text. You must connect with people because if they like the people they're working with, they're going to like the brand, too.

There was steady progress with our process, transitioning from scheduling sessions and coaches’ meetings at high school cafeterias to utilizing our hotel partners. We wanted to make it feel bigger, more special.

Our reach grew and grew. But all the while, we empowered associations to make decisions and helped facilitate age-appropriate rules.

In 2005, we launched the Gopher State Tournament of Champions, a regional opportunity for not only Minnesota community-based teams but also those from western Wisconsin and South and North Dakota that earned a berth through local association invitationals called GSTC qualifiers. Initially, we had 12 divisions of play with 12-16 teams per bracket. Flash forward two decades later, and the GSTC has evolved into a premier event with 19 divisions of play and 32-40 teams per bracket.

I'm proud of how we've grown and how many young athletes we can help to participate and play. COVID was a big test — and we had to adapt. No more in-person meetings led to a transition to online scheduling. We have created measures to streamline every process.

It's hard to comprehend my early years when we had to literally print either handmade or electronic maps of all the fields and assemble them into a “field atlas” booklet. We still have nightmares of trying to finalize schedules with a program called Word Perfect and utilizing a ruler and pen to finish the lines on the brackets. Then we sent everything by snail mail!

As I reflect on past seasons and look ahead to season 25, I am filled with gratitude for the incredible journey I've had, working alongside dedicated directors and coaches, building meaningful relationships, and witnessing the growth of youth baseball players who have gone on to achieve success at collegiate and professional levels. It's inspiring to see the positive impact that our efforts in youth sports have had on individuals who continue to contribute to our society in countless ways. It’s always inspiring to run into former youth coaches, directors, and players in the community who have so many fond moments from their time participating in the GSBL or any of our Gopher State tournaments.

Connections may be harder to build now, especially with more associations, more coaches, more parents, and more leaders. But the pride and passion remain, and I'm excited to see how we continue to adapt and acclimate in the future.