Telegram 2022 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year: Ahlberg's love for the game runs deep
Northwood/Solon Springs sophomore Abe Ahlberg is this year's pick.
SOLON SPRINGS — In the backyard of a home near Upper St. Croix Lake, a giant pig sits near the woods.
For years, when a child hit a ball past the pig at Gitzy Wicklund’s home, it meant they had just belted a home run. Wicklund provided day care to local children and that was one of the rules they had to follow when they played baseball.
Abe Ahlberg, the Telegram’s 2022 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, remembers every rule.
- No hitting toward the house, and try not to hit any of the other buildings
- Play fair
- Hitting past the giant pig in centerfield is a home run
- Have fun
That last rule seemed the most important as Ahlberg recalled it for the Telegram.
“Everybody had to have fun, otherwise we didn’t get to play,” he said.
Having a ball
The sophomore shortstop and pitcher for the Northwood/Solon Springs Green Eagles is still having plenty of fun playing baseball.
He batted .474 this season with 36 hits, including 15 doubles and four home runs. He notched 33 runs batted in, walked 13 times and struck out 18 times. His on-base plus slugging percentage was 1.399.
On the mound, he went 7-1 with a 0.99 earned run average in 42.1 innings pitched. He struck out 85 batters and walked 26. The batting average of opponents facing Ahlberg was .124.
The Green Eagles finished 24-4, losing in the WIAA Division 4 sectional final to Eau Claire Regis.
Ahlberg’s goal at the start of the season was for the team to qualify for the state tournament and contend for a title. While they didn’t make it this year, he said he thinks they can do it next year.
“I feel like we’re bringing a good team back; we’ve got three incoming freshmen who are pretty good,” he said.
Ahlberg threw three no-hitters this year — two combined and one complete. That was a surprise, he said.
“I would say that’s what surprised me the most this year,” he said of the no-hitters.
Coach Nate Ahlberg, Abe’s dad, said Abe has always loved baseball. When other kids were playing with trucks, Abe preferred to play catch or hit off the tee in the yard.
While Abe is solid at the plate and in the field, Nate said there’s room for growth.
At the start of the season, he noticed Abe was trying to smash every ball, rather than just put them in play.
“I said, ‘You don’t need to take a giant swing to be able to hit the ball hard,’” Nate said. “So once he kind of saw some results of just trying to square up balls and get the barrel on it, then the 1-for-4s turned into 3-for-4s or 2-for-3s and his batting average started to climb.”
And with pitching, he wants to see Abe improve his control.
“He can throw hard, but sometimes he just has a hard time finding it,” Nate said. “That’s the one thing if we’re going to do something, we want to make sure he can throw — limit his number of pitches so we can get it onto the next guy to finish off that game.”
‘Just try and play’
So what’s Abe’s biggest strength?
It’s not how hard he throws or how well he sees the ball when he’s in the batter’s box. According to Nate, it’s his demeanor.
“Generally speaking he tries to keep pretty even,” Nate said. “This team is very talented and it's still very young, and I think that’s a strength that he has to be able to keep his composure, even when the stakes get a little bit higher, the competition gets a little bit better, he just doesn’t seem to get too flustered.”
Abe said it’s important not to get too excited when things are going well in a game and not to get too low when things aren’t going well.
He doesn’t want to be the type of player who thinks he’s so good that he’s mean to his opponents, he said.
And staying at an even keel keeps mistakes from impacting other parts of his game.
“If you’re pitching bad and you make a scene on the mound, it’s probably going to translate to your at-bats and you’re probably not going to do very good. I try to stay calm, collected and just try and play,” he said.
Abe is the first sophomore to be named the Telegram’s Player of the Year in baseball, and the first from the Northwood/Solon Springs co-op team.
“It’s kind of cool that I’m the only sophomore who’s ever gotten it,” Abe said.
The fact that Abe is so talented for such a young player isn’t anything new, Nate said. Most kids start in the kid-pitch leagues at third or fourth grade. Abe started in first grade.
“I don’t think that that fazes him too much to be able to play with older kids. I think initially they look at him like ‘What’s this kid doing here?’ but his game shows that he does belong,” Nate said.
Abe echoed those sentiments, and said he’s gained valuable experience by playing on traveling teams. Last year he played with the local War Eagles team, and this year, he and teammate Kaden Corlett are playing for the Minnesota Ice Men out of the Twin Cities.
He said being able to play baseball in the summer is a privilege, and something he doesn’t take for granted.
In fact, when asked what the highlight of his season was, Abe didn’t point to a monster hit, a crucial strikeout or a clutch defensive play.
He cited his teammates.
“Just being able to play with some of my best friends who I’ve known my entire life,” he said.
Friends like Corlett, who also grew up attending day care at Gitzy’s, trying to hit home runs past the pig.