It’s a particularly windy Monday afternoon, and the gusts whip dirt into massive clouds without warning. While his teammates, clad in red and black uniforms, wait for him to move, pitcher Noah Harder sizes up the situation.
His opponent is a lanky kid wearing the blue and white threads of the North Aurora Storm, and balancing a bat on his right shoulder. Harder thinks for a moment, waits out a cloud of dust, draws back and lets fly with a pitch.
“Strike three!” the umpire barks, as the assembled parents break into applause. Harder has just notched up the first strikeout on the Montgomery Mustangs’ home field.
At this time last year, that field, on the grounds of Kaneland McDole Elementary School on Montgomery’s west side, was unplayable, covered in weeds and neglected. And the Montgomery Mustangs, the village’s first youth travel baseball team, simply didn’t exist.
As Coach Jon Westmaas can tell you, the story of the Mustangs is one of creating something from nothing, through sheer willpower and hard work. This year, the Mustangs will play 16 regular season games against the eight other teams in their Kane County Bronco League division, traveling to Elburn and Sandwich and Genoa and other destinations. And they’ll be proudly wearing the Montgomery name.
The Mustangs, Westmaas said, really started with his son Nathan, who wanted to play on a travel baseball team. Westmaas said they had tried a team in Sugar Grove, but were, as he said, “not pleased with the caliber of coaching.” So last fall, Westmaas decided to create his own 12-and-under team.
And he knew just where they should play, too – the McDole Elementary baseball diamond, close to his home in the Foxmoor subdivision. There was just one problem. It was a disaster.
“We had big dreams, but we looked at the field, and it did not look good at the time,” he said. “We went to the village of Montgomery and got them involved, and they ended up bringing equipment in to pull the weeds up.”
The field hadn’t been used in some time, according to Mike Pubentz, Montgomery’s public works director. His staff, he said, was out there for a day and part of a second, cutting weeds, tilling the earth, hauling out big piles of dirt, and clearing out the infield.
After that, Westmaas and other volunteers dug in, spending the next three months pulling weeds, leveling off the ground and essentially turning it into a playable diamond again. Westmaas struck a deal with McDole Elementary—the Mustangs would clean up and maintain the field in exchange for use of the diamond and the gym for practice.
And practice they did. The Mustangs held tryouts in September, selecting 11 players. Westmaas put together a coaching staff, including Rob Bialek, who has experience coaching in the Greater Aurora Baseball Association. Practices began in December in the McDole gym, and the Mustangs joined the Bronco League, ready to compete.
And on Monday, Montgomery’s first youth travel team played their first home game. Which they won, 8-6.
The players are excited to have a home field that looks so good, and to get out of the gym and play outside.
“It feels like we’re playing on a major league team,” Harder said.
Running a team isn’t cheap, and Westmaas said each of the players’ families will end up spending about $650 for uniforms, league fees, umpire fees and other expenses. The team will exist largely on donations and sponsorships, and they plan several fundraisers, one of which is going on now at their website.
Additionally, the Sugar Grove Park District has taken over the field, and they’ll maintain and stripe it for games – for a cost.
The Mustangs’ first season will last until the end of July, and they’ll face each team in their division (12U Bronze) twice. (They lost to the Elburn Express 11-4 in Elburn on Wednesday.) A tournament will be held at season’s end. Next year, Westmaas hopes to move up to the silver level, where the Mustangs will face better players.
For now, though, he’s taking it as it comes, knowing that it’s year one, and that the Mustangs were just an idea last year. Pubentz, for one, is impressed with their efforts so far.
“It’s cool to see a group of people with enough enthusiasm to do that,” he said. “This group took the bull by the horns and made it happen.”