In 2013, Montello’s first year in the Home Talent League’s Sunday league, manager Mark Hanson would roll out of bed on game day and hear the same question from his wife, Shirley.
“Do you have enough guys for today?” she would ask, setting Hanson off on his weekly quest to make sure he had a full roster of nine players by 1 p.m.
He would put guys on the roster just for the sake of having bodies in case he was short. Oftentimes, he wound up calling those guys to ensure he could fill his lineup card.
But those days are long gone for the HTL Final Four-bound Granite Jaxx, who have advanced to the league’s round-robin championship series in their first-ever playoff appearance.
Led by former UW-Whitewater standout Curtis Morgan, Montello cruised past Monona, 11-2, in the first round. Next, the Granite Jaxx defeated Portage, 4-3 in extra innings, in the Eastern Section title game.
It’s been quite the run for Hanson, who founded the team with the help of fellow coach Nick Polcyn.
The two were coaching high school football for the Montello/Green Lake/Princeton Co-op when an idea struck Hanson, which he took to Polcyn.
“I knew there was a lot of good baseball talent in the Montello, Princeton, Green Lake area,” Hanson said. “And I said, ‘I’d like to see that talent play more.’”
The Granite Jaxx began playing in 2012 in the Home Talent Night League, before taking an open spot in the Northern Section of the Sunday league the following year.
It was a struggle those first couple of years, but after going 9-9 last season and missing the playoffs by two games, the Granite Jaxx compiled a 14-4 record in 2017. Polcyn said the jump to the top of the East was made possible by team camaraderie and a consistent lineup.
“We get the same guys to show up every week, and that’s huge. We’re gonna have everyone there and not worry about numbers, whereas the first few years we had those issues,” Polcyn said.
“We were close last year. And just to know we were that close, we came back this year knowing we wanted to make the playoffs and then do something once we got in there.”
The Granite Jaxx’s playoff run has also ignited the interest of the community. Hanson said he was at a church function Wednesday and several people, who haven’t been to games all year, told him they would be there Sunday for the Final Four contest.
“It’s been good for our community, because our community didn’t really know we were there,” Hanson said. “And now, about the last half of the year, with us being up toward the top and now making the playoffs, we’ve gotten a lot of community members finding out about us and coming out and watching.”
One of those community members is a former Marquette County Sheriff’s Deputy who attended a game a couple weeks ago. Hanson said that he had never seen a Home Talent before and was unsure of what the baseball was like. After the game, the sheriff chatted with Hanson.
“He said, “I absolutely loved watching.’ And he’s been back two or three times and he’s already said he can’t wait for the Final Four game,” Hanson said.
Montello will play host to Northern Section champion Middleton at 1 p.m. Sunday, before traveling to Dodgeville the following weekend. In the last week of the round robin series, Montello will play host to Stoughton — with the possibility of capturing the Home Talent League title on their home field.
Hanson is hoping he gets another moment like the one he had last Sunday, when he got to celebrate with his wife — the same one who, five years ago, would wonder every weekend whether Montello would have enough guys to field a team.
“(My wife) knows how important this is and how special it is for me,” Hanson said. “After the game, having my wife run up to me and giving me a hug … It’s been special.”
Night League final set: Sauk Prairie will visit Middleton at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to decide the Home Talent Night League champion. Last Thursday, Sauk Prairie defeated Cross Plains, 5-0, and Middleton outlasted Mount Horeb, 2-0, in semifinal play.