Quinn Irey’s played a lot of baseball this year -- a lot -- but he’s enjoying every inning.
After a long college season, beginning in the fall and ending in the spring, the all-conference catcher for the Jimmies went straight to his hometown of Bismarck to join the Larks of the prestigious Northwoods League. The Larks get about one day off per month and their season leads right up to fall ball for the University of Jamestown in mid-August.
“It’s a little weird not going to the ballpark today,” Irey said last Wednesday from a Motel 6 in Waterloo, Iowa on a rare day off for the Larks. “There’s nothing better than going to the ballpark at 3 or 4 (p.m.), taking BP and then playing night games in front of all those fans. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously so far.”
The Northwoods League is considered one of the top collegiate summer leagues, featuring many future pro ballplayers. The league’s 20 teams are scattered across Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario, Canada and the first-year Bismarck club. Only players with collegiate eligibility remaining can play. They are not paid, but Irey said, “They take care of us really well in this league.”
Irey is a two-year starter for the Jimmies and one of the top two-way catchers in the NAIA. Last year, the former Bismarck High standout hit .313 with five home runs and 39 RBIs. Defensively, he gunned down 14 of 61 attempted base stealers. The physical education major, and future baseball coach, also excels in the classroom. He was named an NAIA Scholar Athlete last month, requiring a grade point average of at least 3.50.
Irey said playing for the Larks has exceeded his expectations. There have been adjustments to make against pitchers that can bring the heat.
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is the velocity,” he said. “We see a little velo with teams like Bellevue (Neb.), but you definitely see a little fuzz in this league … gotta get your foot down.
“But I’m really enjoying it. It’s making be a better player.”
Through Saturday, Irey had 12 hits in 57 at bats and one of the Larks’ six home runs. He shares catching duties with Trever Leingang of Mandan. One of the team’s pitchers (Tyler Steele) is staying in the extra bedroom of the Irey family home in Bismarck.
The roster features players from 13 states (five from California) and one from the Netherlands.
“That’s been one of the most enjoyable parts is getting to meet a bunch of new guys and getting to know them and then coming together to form a team,” Irey said. “We’re having a lot of fun and trying to win games along the way.”
The Larks’ coaching staff includes former pros -- pitching coach Karsten Whitson is a former Boston Red Sox farmhand -- and ex-big time college players. Irey said he’s trying to be a sponge.
“There’s always something new to learn,” Irey said. “That’s been my biggest thing this year is just trying to pick people’s brains. Whether it was with my college coaches, or now with our coaches here … in this game, you never have it all figured out.”
The catcher Irey apprenticed under during his freshman season for the Jimmies (Marcus Blackmon) went on to play pro ball. Irey has similar aspirations, although work remains to be done.
“I’ve talked to coach (Tom) Hager a little about that, but I’m looking forward to my senior year and hopefully we’ll have another good year as a team and then we’ll kinda look at things after that,” he said. “I’m not taking anything off the table right now. Hopefully, I’ll continue to develop as a consistent backstop behind the plate and if that leads to something down the road that would be great.”