At the conclusion of the State American Legion Baseball Tournament last week at St. Paul’s CHS Field, Excelsior general manager Jim Peck called his shortstop, Gus Steiger, “the best player in the state tournament.”
It would be hard for anyone to dispute that claim. Steiger was the tournament’s leading hitter with a .588 batting average (10 hits in 17 at-bats). Additionally, he was clutch in the field and he hit a ball out of the park at Siebert Field. And by the way, he did all that with a wrist injury that would have kept most players out of the starting lineup.
Excelsior finished sixth out of 16 teams at state with a 3-2 record, and that ended a 38-6-2 season for the Fire Club.
Head coach Bruce Barron of the Fire Club acknowledged that the team’s stellar record would not have been possible without Steiger.
Evaluating the shortstop’s performance, Barron said, “If that’s how injured guys play, give me more of them. Gus missed part of the Sub-State 4 Tournament with an injury to his left wrist. The doctor told him he wouldn’t damage it any further if he played in the state tournament. I thought Gus would be questionable for Saturday after playing two games on Friday, but he was ready.”
More than ready, as it turned out. Steiger turned on a fastball and sent a 365-foot bomb over the left field fence, as the Fire Club defeated St. Michael 6-5.
“The wrist injury made me more selective at the plate,” said Steiger. “I was looking for one good swing each at-bat. The pitch I hit out was perfect – middle-n just above the belt. I was lucky to get around on it.”
“Gus jumped all over that one,” said Barron. “He knew that pulling a ball at Siebert was his best chance for a home run.”
After playing four games at state, Steiger rested against Eden Prairie in action Sunday at CHS Field. While he didn’t start, he entered the game in the seventh inning.
He schemed to get in the game, even telling Barron that he was ready to pitch.
“That’s the kind of kid he is,” said Barron. “He wants to do all he can to help the team.”
During the regular season, there were times when Steiger carried the team. He batted second in the order behind center fielder T.J. Rogers, who won the MVP award in the Sub-Section tourney.
“From what I saw at the state tournament, Gus would be the No. 1 draft choice,” said Barron. “He and I have a relationship that’s very cool. We respect each other’s requirements. I don’t have to say much to him, usually it’s a nod of the head. Anytime he’s out of the lineup, he’s sorely missed. When he rejoined the lineup for state, the whole team perked up.”
Steiger is headed to South Dakota State University on Aug. 18 as a Division I scholarship athlete.
“His improvement isn’t going to stop,” Barron predicted. “I believe he could have played for John Anderson at the U [Minnesota]. It’s so much fun to watch Gus play defense.”
If all goes right, Steiger, who is young enough to play another year of Legion ball, could return to the Fire Club following his freshman year at SDSU. That would give Excelsior a seasoned leader at one of the key positions on the field.
“A lot depends on what his college coach wants him to do next summer,” said Barron. “If Gus decides to play another year of Legion baseball, he would certainly be welcome.”
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