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Woodbury High School ballplayer helps land merger with Saints

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Chris Hofacker could have just packed it in.

Cut from an elite traveling baseball team as a 14-year-old, he was understandably disappointed. But then a thought occurred to him: what's keeping me from starting my own team?

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A year later, the Woodbury High School student had done just that. He had reached out to friends, parents and fellow players, and devised his own team that came to be known as the Minnesota Classic.

The effort required more than a little convincing and trust-building.

"What kind of parent is going to hand a 15-year-old kid a check for $1,500?" Hofacker said.

The answer? Enough to field a team that traveled to three states and collected tournament trophies.

Eventually, Hofacker - now a senior at WHS - expanded the Minnesota Classic into three traveling youth baseball teams, all by the time he was a high school junior.

"That's pretty dang impressive," said Kevin McDermott, Hofacker's coach on the Royals varsity baseball team.

After a more than a year in existence, the Minnesota Classic began turning some heads at the team's training facility. The team rented space at the Lakeville-based Saints Sports Academy, an affiliate of the St. Paul Saints baseball team.

Academy officials liked what they saw.

In July 2011, Hofacker got further validation of his team's success. His Minnesota Classic team merged with the Saints Sports Academy, which had been looking to provide a year-round youth baseball program.

Hofacker was named a member of Saints Development Baseball program.

Or at least that's what it reads on the business cards he carries with him.

"That's a pretty big pact to form," McDermott said of the merger. "He's a little businessman."

Lamarr Rogers, a baseball instructor at the academy and hitting coach for the St. Paul Saints, said the merger came together after he was approached by two parents who helped Hofacker administer the Minnesota Classic.

"I had interest in that side of the developmental program for the future," he said. "It was just perfect timing."

Rogers said he didn't exactly know at first how the program would come together - but he learned.

"A lot of that was Chris Hofacker," he said.

Hofacker helped the academy establish its first two teams, which have already been flourishing. The team he played on over the winter won the championship at a tournament held in Vero Beach, Fla.

The academy now boasts 11 teams on its way to a goal of 20.

Making it legit

If there's anything Hofacker said he wants, it's that people don't handle him with kid gloves.

When he strode into Saints' offices for a business meeting last year on the merger, he said he wasn't even nervous.

All he needed was to buy new dress pants.

"I like the responsibility," he said.

Not that he's had to shoulder the entire load. He said the venture wouldn't have gotten off the ground without the help of two teammates' parents - Adrian Hebig and Damin Hall.

Hofacker said Hebig - who coaches the Saints 18U team - helped him navigate the paperwork and some rough patches from critics in the early going.

"They'd say, 'You can't get guys to commit to this,'" Hofacker said.

McDermott said what Hofacker was able to build was a legitimate traveling team that has been taken seriously in the youth baseball community.

"He's absolutely done it right," the coach said. "It's not a second-class operation."

The game plan

Hofacker said the idea of off-season traveling baseball is to offer Minnesota ballplayers something their counterparts from the South take for granted: baseball in the winter.

"Once the snow comes, there isn't much more they can do," he said. "So we take them out of state."

And give them indoor facilities to train in while winter grinds away.

Being able to cultivate skill year-round is improving Minnesota youth ballplayers, Hofacker said. In time, that could make North Star State players even more noticeable to Division I programs, he said.

The Saints' developmental teams train year-round at the Lakeville facility, where they receive instruction from former ballplayers with high-level experience. The facility also offers equipment and the use of Midway Field, where the Saints play.

"The resources we didn't have before are there now," Hofacker said.

College and beyond

Though he originally planned to attend the University of St. Thomas next year, Hofacker recently decided to first collect his general education credits at Century College - where tuition is cheaper - before finishing up at St. Thomas.

He will continue to work with the developmental program, though Rogers said his role will depend on availability, at least while college is in session.

Hofacker plans to major in sports marketing management, but he said he feels like he's already received a degree through his baseball experiences.

"It's been more rewarding to me than I can possibly imagine," he said. "The life experience is unbelievable."

And he said he hopes his example will show other young people the way they reach a crossroads.

"If it's not there, go do it," he said. "Don't wait for someone else to do it."

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Michael Longaecker
Mike Longaecker is editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. His coverage includes local crime, legislative activity and prep sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker
(651) 702-0973
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