By PATRICK SLACK
For Joe Sczublewski, the years are as impressive as the wins.
Without the longevity, Sczublewski wouldn’t have ended up tied for 20th in Minnesota state history for wins as a head baseball coach.
And without producing winners year in and year out, he may not be tied for 12th in longest tenure entering his 35th season as a head coach.
Together, the records led Sczublewski, a 1972 graduate of Little Falls Community High School (LFCHS), into the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Oct. 27.
“Baseball has always been fun for me,” Sczublewski said. “Growing up I played ball a lot with my brothers Ken, Rick and Bob.”
Sczublewski then played for the strong Flyers’ varsity teams of the 1970s under Don Sorenson, one of the people who led him into coaching.
“Don was very organized, adapted to the personnel that he had, play small ball, go for the big inning,” Sczublewski said.
“He and Jack McGrath were two really good influences,” he said. “I’ve been associated with a lot of good people.”
Sczublewski went on to play baseball for four years at Bemidji State University before beginning his teaching and coaching career at Waldorf-Pemberton in 1976.
“Even after I started coaching I played amateur ball for quite awhile,” Sczublewski said. “Eventually you get to the point where you can’t play. The next best thing is coaching. Coaching is a lot of fun and a good way to stay with the game.”
After a year as an assistant and a year as the head coach, Sczublewski took a job in Sauk Centre in the fall of 1978 to teach high school social studies and take over as the head baseball coach.
In just his third year at the school, Sczublewski guided Sauk Centre to the state tournament in the spring of 1981, with the team taking third place.
Just one year later, the results would be even better.
“It was pretty much the same team the following year,” Sczublewski said. “Those kids played ball for a long time together. Power, speed, defense, a couple of pretty good pitchers … they had it all. Everything kind of fell together for them.”
Following a 3-3 start, Sauk Centre began rattling off win after win, not dropping another of the team’s remaining 18 games en route to another trip to the state tournament.
“We had some close games,” he said. “The semifinal game we played Brooklyn Center. We had one hit and scored five runs. We could really scramble for runs, play small ball.”
“Brooklyn Center had a really good pitcher that really shut us down,” he said. “But we took advantage of our opportunities.”
That moved Sauk Centre into the finals, where it took on Delano.
After trailing most of the game, Sauk Centre came back near the end of the game to take a late one-run lead, only for Delano to load the bases with only one out.
“Their best hitter was up and he hit into a double play to end the game,” Sczublewski said. “I still remember the moment to this day.”
After that, Sczublewski took Sauk Centre to the state tournament once more in 1989, then moved on to Albert Lea where he has been the head coach for 23 years.
Sczublewski has a career record of 378-353 as a head coach at the high school level, while also being involved with coaching at the VFW and American Legion levels.
“You see a lot of changes as time goes by, see a lot of people come and go, see how kids have changed,” he said. “With specialization, you don’t see as many three-sport athletes and the bats seem to change all the time. But you also get to see different coaches and it’s fun to compete against different people.”
“It’s an honor, obviously, to be selected to that group of select coaches,” he said. “It’s a very impressive list of people. It was a fun ceremony and nice to meet some of the people and have a chance to visit with them. It was a very humbling experience.”