With countless collegiate summer leagues nationally, players spend their summers playing with teams comprised of college players from around the country. Most of the Broncos are somewhere playing in a summer league. With players all over the country, Broncos are in the Northwoods League, Texas Collegiate Baseball League, the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League, Alaskan Baseball League, Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, California Collegiate League and many more. The "All Summer Long" Series follows the Broncos on their summer experiences.
By: Brandon Rebboah
SANTA CLARA, Calif.- Rising-junior SS/2B Justin Viele is hard at work this summer refining his skills while playing for the Eau Claire Express in Eau Claire, Wis. of the Northwood's League. One of two captains on Santa Clara's 2011 squad, Viele is gaining experience in preparation for his junior season on the Mission Campus.
The Northwoods League is one of the most competitive collegiate summer leagues in the country with some of the top collegiate players playing for the teams in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Canada.
"It's fun to play with guys I know will probably be top draft picks," said Viele. "I played in the West Coast League last summer and I thought that was super competitive, but this league is more competitive by far. [That] makes the game atmosphere much more exciting."
The atmosphere around the Northwoods League certainly has been exciting for Viele. The Express frequently welcome 2,000 fans at their home games in the historic Carson Park. Carson Park dates back 74 years and has hosted teams such as the Eau Claire Braves that once fielded the great Hank Aaron. In fact, Carson Park boasts the Henry Aaron Plaza commemorating the Major League legend.
As of July 18 the Express, the reigning Northwoods League champions, are currently 4.5 games back in the Northwood's South Division.
The Bronco shortstop is looking to improve in all aspects as a player and always wants to get better at his trade. He spends some of his free time at the team's workout center.
"I spend my mornings [at the workout center]," said Viele. "Then I will go to the field before batting practice and there are always coaches there to help with early hitting drills."
The Northwoods League is also home to fellow Broncos Pat Stover, Kyle DeMerritt, Stephen Meade and Matt Ozanne. Viele and the Express have played DeMerritt, Meade, and Ozanne so far this summer. While some might find it odd to see two Broncos in opposing dugouts, Viele doesn't think that out of the ordinary.
"It's fun playing against Santa Clare teammates," said Viele. "But we play against each other all during the fall [scrimmages] and practices, so it's nothing new. It always nice seeing good friends from back home while I am across the country."
Viele, the only Bronco to start all 51 games in 2011, is hitting .233 with a .341 on-base percentage for Eau Claire. Over the weekend the Express played a three-game series with the Wisconsin Woodchucks, dropping all three.
Fellow Santa Clara infielder, Kyle DeMerritt, plays for the Woodchucks. On Fri., July 15 the Express fell to the Woodchucks in a 10-inning affair, but Viele picked up a RBI on a sacrifice fly. In Saturday's loss, he walked twice and stole a base for the Express. In the series finale, he registered a walk and a run scored.
As one of the Broncos top defensive players, Viele is excited for the 2012 season and the opportunities it brings. He recently got the chance to speak with recently hired head coach Dan O'Brien.
"I talked to Coach Dan O'Brien on the phone the other day," said Viele. "He sounded very enthusiastic and confident about being a Bronco and that was nice to hear. We had a good first conversation and I'm sure there will be many more."
To follow Viele and the Eau Claire Express visit the team's website.