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RedHawks earn victory in Schlact's first home opener as team manager

Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks manager Michael Schlact steps onto the infield during team introductions prior to Friday night's home opener at Newman Outdoor Field. Darren Gibbins / The Forum1 / 3
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks' Brennan Metzger gets a high five from skipper Michael Schlact after reaching home during Friday's game at Newman Outdoor Field. Darren Gibbins / The Forum2 / 3
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks' Tommy Mendonca takes a ball off the knee during Friday's home-opening game at Newman Outdoor Field. Darren Gibbins / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO—Friday night at Newman Outdoor Field had a different feel for Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks manager Michael Schlact.

It was Schlact's first home opener with American Association baseball club as the team's manager. He drew a round of applause from the crowd after he was announced over the public address system and lined up near home plate during the pregame festivities.

"It's a blessing, first off, given the fact that in 2015 this organization gave me a shot to be a pitching coach with no experience," Schlact said. "Surreal is the word I'm looking for."

RedHawks catcher Charlie Valerio made it a successful evening for the home team. Valerio's two-out RBI double in the seventh inning broke a tie and lifted F-M to a 5-3 victory against the Lincoln Saltdogs before a crowd of 4,041 fans.

"We come in here to Fargo and we want to give a good fight for the fans," said Valerio, who finished 1-for-3 with an RBI.

The RedHawks (4-3) split six road games to start the regular season before Friday's home opening win at Newman as the franchise is starting its 23rd season. Doug Simunic was the team's manager for the previous 22 seasons.

Schlact is only the second manager to lead the RedHawks into a home opener.

"It's exciting," said Schlact, who finished last season as the team's interim manager. "Even though we are six games in, this is Game 7, it's essentially a fresh start. ... It's always full of energy. The expectations are high. The butterflies are there. Everybody is amped, especially in a place like this."

Friday evening also marked the return of a familiar face to the home dugout for a home opener. RedHawks hitting coach Chris Coste was back. The last time he was part of the home-opening festivities was in 1999 when he was a catcher for the team. Coste was also part of F-M's first championship team, which won the Northern League title, in 1998.

Coste, also the head baseball coach at Concordia, went on to win a World Series championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.

"When I played, the RedHawks were a huge part of my life, but that never really changed," Coste said. "That RedHawks logo for me means every bit as much as the Philadelphia 'P.' That RedHawks feathered logo means just as much to as the word 'Phillies' across my jersey. Without the RedHawks, I'm not moving on, I'm not making the Major Leagues."

Coste said there is always a different energy during a home opener.

"It's exciting you get to play in front of your home crowd," Coste said. "You want your home crowd to show up with some intensity, excitement, but you also want your crowd to show up with expectations. ... Every pitch, especially in an opener, feels like a playoff-type atmosphere. You want your crowd to feel the same way."

RedHawks designated hitter Keury De La Cruz was in late-season form. He went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and also scored two runs. De La Cruz had an RBI double in the first inning and added a run-scoring single in the fifth inning. He capped his performance with an RBI single in the eighth.

De La Cruz scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the seventh inning. He raced home from third base on Valerio's double for a 4-3 lead.

"Always when you play at home you feel comfortable," Valerio said. "We be like, 'That's my home.' I have to take care of my home. I have to do everything good."

RedHawks right-handed reliever Travis Ballew pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory. Right-handed closer Randy McCurry pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save.

Eric Peterson
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.

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