Josh Mulder returns as manager for the Brandon Valley Rats’ 22 season

Tom A. Savage, Contributing writer

Valley Rats manager Josh Mulder

 Last season’s Brandon Valley Rats amateur baseball season was one to forget. The Rats entered the 2021 season with high hopes to make a Class A title run, only to see things fall apart in disastrous ways as the summer progressed.

The tragic automobile death of team co-founder Jacob Mulder in June clearly changed the trajectory of the team, and they went out in the district tournament with a whimper.

As the team mourned Mulder’s death, the Rats could never find their footing after taking a three-week break from the diamond. They canceled five games, and once they did start playing again, the Rats went 1-4 down the stretch in the regular season and limped into the postseason.

Mulder joined forces with his brother, Josh, to form the team in 2014 after the Brandon Merchants bolted for Sioux Falls to form the Sioux Falls Brewers in 2012.

The 2020 season was the team’s best effort, reaching the Class A semifinals. Last year’s troublesome year seemed like it might be the end of Josh’s term as manager.

“It was hard for me to go to the ballpark, every single game,” Josh said at the end of last year. “I’m leaning towards being done (managing), but I’ll still have some type of role, but I’m not sure what it’s going to be.”

As it turns out, that role is full-time manager again. As it happens with many players and coaches during the off-season, when an upcoming season approaches, emotions can get stirred and the itch to get back is too tough to ignore.

The Rats open the season in Valley Springs on June 2 against Baltic, and Josh will be at his post in the third base coaching box.

“I just didn’t want to see the team die. I know Jacob wouldn’t want that either. It means too much to me now with everything that’s gone on,” Josh said. “The more I thought about it in the off-season – and just through reflection and prayer – I felt I needed to give it at least one more year. Honestly for Jacob, more than anything. We built the team together and I couldn’t leave it with how things ended last year.”

Josh said he’s gotten support from some of his closest friends, who also sport a Rats jersey during the summer. He said assistant coach Dylan Scheiffer, along with pitchers Ryan Hamilton and Dalton Homeier have been a big part of his decision to return.

As is with many amateur baseball teams around the state, fielding complete teams is a daily problem. Several players also coach Junior Legion and teener teams in their hometowns. Mulder called that a smart move, but it also hinders amateur teams fielding a complete roster each week.

To combat it, Mulder said they’ve bolstered their roster to 33 players this year to hopefully eliminate that problem. As a comparison, there are 26 players on every Major League Baseball team.

“We’ve taken it a step further this year,” Mulder said. “I don’t have time in my day to hound guys and tell them we’re short on players. We need more people for games. So that’s fine, I just built a bigger roster.”

It’s a similar story to start this season. Mulder admitted that he says it every year, but this year especially, he feels the Rats can make a run.

“Jacob always used to say it, too,” Mulder said. “But honestly, I feel the most excited about this team this year, and I think Jacob would be pretty excited about the roster we’ve put together.”

Along with their regular season in the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association, the Rats will also play a home-and-away series with a new team formed in Sioux City made up of college players from Morningside University and Mount Marty University.

The Jacob Mulder Memorial Game is scheduled for July 14 against Harrisburg at First National Bank Field in Brandon. 

Josh said this is more than likely his last season with the team, but had the strong urge to fulfill his brother’s wishes that began in 2014.

“I’m ready to fully dedicate the whole season to Jacob and give it everything I’ve got,” he said. “This last year has been a roller coaster. Every day is hard. Some days are harder than others, but I guess it depends what I’m doing. If I’m thinking about baseball, I reflect on it and think, ‘Dang, this is a conversation I’d be having with Jacob right now. He’d be pretty jacked up.”


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