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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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July 21, 2019

6/29/2019 7:30:00 AM
NATURAL REACTION
Snowshoe lessons
Jacob Friede
Of The Lakeland Times

I ice fish exclusively by foot, and winter after winter I find myself tromping across lakes through snowdrifts, wishing I had a pair of snowshoes. Yet somehow, year after year, I neglect to buy a pair and my body pays the price.

This past week, however, I faced terrain absolutely impassable without them, finally strapping on a pair of snowshoes, and I was given quite a lesson.

The challenge in front of me, however, was not deep snow, but rather the sawdust down the first base line at Snowshoe Park in Lake Tomahawk.

This past week I, as a member of The Lakeland Times team, played snowshoe baseball for the first time, and though the distance from home to first was only 90 feet, it might as well have been 90 miles, because that's how much effort it seemed to take to get there.

I can't tell you how awkward it is to even walk in snowshoes for the first time, but trying to sprint in them, in front of hundreds of spectators, is a whole other ballgame. But the resulting bumbling and stumbling is what makes snowshoe baseball so entertaining, and I was more than glad to contribute my fair share.

As I entered the park, baseball was in the air. I weaved my way through throngs of fans and I could smell hot dogs and onions and relish as I approached the field. And then I saw it.

Not since witnessing County Stadium in Milwaukee for the first time, over 30 years ago, have I been so impressed by a ball field. Back then I was struck by the greenest infield grass I'd ever seen. In Lake Tomahawk, I was equally struck by the lack of any grass period.

The entire infield diamond was covered in golden sawdust and at that point I knew I was involved in something uniquely Northwoods.

I was carrying my baseball glove when I approached our team bench and was promptly asked why I brought that. Then I was told there are no gloves used in snowshoe baseball. It just kept getting better.

Next I was handed a pair of snowshoes with tangles of strange straps. It took me a half an hour to figure out how to put them on, and even then they kept falling off somehow, but I was ready to roll.

The next challenge was moving in them, and it was no easy task, but with a bit of practice I figured out how to keep my toes up and was eventually able to achieve something close to a run.

There was a complete lack of grace in my movements, however, as I clomped and hopped around, and chuckles from the stands seemed to arise every time I tried a practice sprint.

Then the game began.

The whole scene was a mix of a circus sideshow and minor league baseball. With all the awkward motions at play, the huge crowd was light-hearted and full of laughter, but on the field it was serious competition. It was game on with snowshoes on.

And I will honestly say it was the most difficult sport I have ever played. In the field and on the base paths, my mind was telling my legs to run, but my feet wouldn't cooperate, like when you're dreaming you're on the run and your legs can't move because they are asleep.

It seemed no matter how much I moved my legs I never got closer to my target.

Still, I did manage to catch a well hit fly ball in the field, and I went 2-4 at the plate, making it as far as second base at one point.

However, the Snowhawks, the official home team, were impressive with their fluid movements on snowshoes and they crushed us 23-4. They ran around the bases and chased down balls like they were wearing cleats and it was an honor to even be on the same field with them.

It was also an honor to simply play in such a unique game in such a unique place in front of a fun-loving, jovial crowd. And now that I have a bit of snowshoe experience I plan to definitely have a pair by this winter, but no matter the depth of snow that I face in the future, no trek on snowshoes will ever be as memorable my first in Lake Tomahawk.

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes .com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.





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