Hortonville Stars players having a ball
Barring an unexpected phone call, baseball is no longer an occupation for Dave Gassner.Harikkala, Bilke, Ramos, and Alcala are all former pros in Appleton. Ramos and Alcala were teammates on the 2000 Timber Rattlers club. Harikkala pitched for the Appleton Foxes in 1994. Bilke was a Rattler in 2004.
Instead, it's what he does for fun in his hometown of Hortonville — a summer hobby that doesn't pay a dime.
Playing amateur ball for the Hortonville Stars in the Dairyland League is a different experience from the high-profile, high-pressure world of professional baseball that dominated Gassner's life for nine years.
But it's the same wonderful game that he and fellow Stars pitcher Tim Harikkala played as kids long before launching careers that earned them regular paychecks and took them to "The Show."
"It's not a job any more," said Gassner, who plays first base when not pitching for the Stars. "This has been a lot of fun for me. I always wanted to come back home and play with my brother (Dan Gassner) and a bunch of friends that I played high school ball with. I kept telling those guys to not retire. We're having a pretty good time."
There are aspects to the pro game that Gassner definitely misses, but he appreciates the opportunity to live a more stable life.
"The best part is that my wife and kids can come to the game and I know I'm going home with them afterwards," he said. "The worst part about pro ball is that you're gone months at a time from your family. Mentally, that was always the toughest part for me."
Gassner, who made two big-league starts for the Minnesota Twins in 2005, isn't the only player on the Stars' roster with a professional baseball background.
Four additional Hortonville players — pitchers Harikkala, Austin Bilke and Juan Ramos — and catcher Juan Alcala have pro experience.
"Pitching here is a little different from pro ball," said Harikkala, a married man like Gassner with two children. "You're not as locked in, not as focused and you don't worry as much when he give up a hit. It's a lot of fun, but my competitiveness still comes out a little too much. I'm used to baseball being a seven-day-a-week thing. I didn't know if I could just come out and pitch on Sundays.Head over and read all about it.
"But you get to the point where you'd rather be with the family. You're gone so much when you're playing professionally. I used to bring my family along when the kids were younger or out of school, but it was tough when they were in school. You don't want to be packing them up and moving them around every three months."