Pedretti credits ‘home base’ for hall of fame nod

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Mark Pedretti enters his 27th season coaching Blackhawk baseball this spring. He was recently inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. (Courier file photo)

By Correne Martin

 

Prairie du Chien varsity baseball coach Mark Pedretti has never wavered from his philosophy: “Give me nine kids who wanna play ball and we’ll win more than we lose.”

That conviction has been proven over 26 seasons by the coach’s 393 career victories, 18 conference championships, nine regional championships, four state-tournament berths and one state championship. 

Now he can add Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association (WBCA) Hall of Fame inductee to that list of accomplishments. 

If you ask Pedretti though, his success and hall of fame nod, in particular, are attributed to more than just his own strategies, skills and love for the game.

‘It’s about my wife, kids, coaches, assistant coaches and players,” he insisted.

That collective group of people who’ve supported and represented Blackhawk baseball throughout his coaching reign are the “home base” that deserves all the credit.

At the WBCA induction Feb. 10, Pedretti was one of four coaches who entered the hall of fame, nominated by the WBCA Board of Directors. His speech detailed his coaching career by assigning each of the sport’s four bases to a key aspect of his journey. First base is about making sure baseball is always enjoyable. Second base is the actual coaching of players: the youth who need to learn about being a team and grow up to be upper-class men. Third base represents the fundamentals of baseball and, of course, home base is about family—the “baseball family.”

The coming high school baseball season, which starts March 19, will be Pedretti’s 27th. 

“I’ve enjoyed it, the teaching aspect of it especially,” he quipped. “I like working with the kids and enjoying their successes on and off the field. Some teams we play are more regimented, but just keeping the game simple and fun, I think, is what’s the real purpose.”

After all, that’s one of the reasons he fell in love with baseball to start.

As a child growing up in Prairie du Chien, Pedretti and his buddies were infatuated with watching men’s fast pitch on St. Feriole Island. “We’d watch Jack Mulrooney pitch—he’d spit on his hands in between pitches—and then shag foul balls for 25 cents,” he reminisced. “I’ve always liked pitching and defense more than hitting.”

Pedretti played baseball as a youngster and loved making “sweet scoops” at first base. He also pitched in high school and in slow pitch leagues on the island. After college, he coached freshmen at Northfield, Minn., for two years, before returning to Prairie. Other than taking four years off from coaching when his three kids were younger, he’s led the Hawks ever since. 

According to the WBCA, Pedretti and his team have finished no lower than third in the eight seasons they came up short of the conference title. Overall, he’s just seven wins shy of passing the rare 400-career victory mark. 

Those early years, he remembers pretty well.

“I remember some of those teams: driving around, finding a high schooler and asking if he wanted to go play ball so we had enough numbers. We didn’t have much for equipment. It was three years before all our uniforms actually matched,” he said. 

These days, the Prairie du Chien baseball program doesn’t have any problems fielding a full team. In fact, Pedretti said there’s been as many as four teams at times, with as much as 60 players out in high school.

One year, he did make cuts to the team and felt awful in hindsight. He said it was the worst he ever felt about a decision. He never cut players again. 

“Now, I go with the philosophy, if kids understand their role and are happy, then I’m happy,” he said. 

Pedretti acknowledged that Prairie has had a lot of “great athletes” during his time. In addition to the city being a big baseball town in general, and generating some natural talent, he believes it’s helped that the youth programs stress fundamentals, the high school pitching staff is solid and players and parents dedicate the necessary time.

“We’ve had a lot of great athletes. I’ve seen a lot of super plays and learned it’s never over ‘til it’s over,” he shared, noting that his teams have recorded a few no-hitters and had as many as 30 home runs in one season.

Among his standout memories, he’ll never forget beating top-ranked Madison Edgewood to advance to state. “The fans stormed the field,” he recalled. “And, that first game at the state tournament (in 1993), when the first ball hit the grass and the dew popped up—I can still see it—I knew it was gonna be a good day.”

That was the year the Hawks won the championship.

When the 2018 season begins, Pedretti will have three seniors with outstanding leadership and abilities and an “excellent” crew of sophomores and juniors. 

It all comes down to that pure love of the tradition, the fundamentals and approaching every game as an important one.

Without a doubt, Pedretti and Prairie du Chien will once again be contenders. 

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