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To read a profile of Kent Koch from the Winter 2011 issue of Champion magazine, click here.
By Greg Johnson
On April 12, St. Cloud State senior infielder Kent Koch let me shadow him for a day.
And what a 10-hour journey it was.
Koch is a fifth-year senior on the Huskies baseball team and is scheduled to graduate with a degree in business finance in May. Oh and by the way, he is also the mayor of his hometown Loretto, Minn. He won the election last Nov. 2. – quite a birthday present for a guy who turned 23 five days later.
On this day, though, Koch helped his team sweep a doubleheader against Bemidji State then drove an hour south to the town of 650 citizens for the city council meeting that takes place the second Tuesday of each month.
Being the mayor, Koch runs the meeting of councilmen who are all two to three decades older than he is.
So, welcome to a day in the life of this Division II student-athlete.
Koch arrives at Apollo High School in St. Cloud where the Huskies will conduct batting practice before moving over to Joe Faber Field at the Municipal Athletic Complex that serves as the home diamond for the Huskies. First pitch is slated for 1:30 p.m.
Photos by: Paul Middlestaedt.
On most Tuesdays, Koch would be in his strategic-management class, which runs from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. But today he has an excused absence to represent the school on the baseball diamond.
It is the final class he needs to earn his undergraduate degree. It is also his only class, which is a big reason why he decided to run for mayor of Loretto.
“I started thinking about running for mayor two years ago,” Koch said. “I knew I would only have to get three credits the last semester, and I thought I would be available to go to enough of the meetings.”
Koch is beginning to stretch with his teammates while their Bemidji State opponents finish batting practice.
While Koch and his teammates get loose, Huskies graduate assistant coach Chris Koenig remembers how he heard about the news that Koch had been elected mayor
“I read about it on Facebook, and everyone was congratulating him,” Koenig said. “I guess his family and his roommates were the only ones that knew. He tried to keep it low profile. If anyone was going to do something like this, it would be Kent Koch.”
Koch is in the first group of St. Cloud State hitters to take batting practice.
He’s happy with the way he swung the bat in preparation for the doubleheader, and now he heads out to second base where he takes groundballs.
The Huskies enter this pair of games with an 18-6 record and 6-4 mark in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play. They want a good showing today so they can build momentum for the postseason.
There are big expectations for the Huskies this season since they were a game away from qualifying for the Division II baseball finals in Cary, N.C., in 2010. A loss to their most bitter conference rival, Minnesota State Mankato, added salt to the wound. On their trip back from the regionals in New Mexico, the Huskies voted on captains for the 2011 squad. Koch was among three selected.
A few months later, the citizens of Loretto elected him as their mayor.
“At first we didn’t take him seriously, but when he actually got elected, it didn’t surprise me,” said St. Cloud relief pitcher Ryne Schwenke, who is also Koch’s roommate. “He manages his time pretty well. He’s a humble guy. Once he got elected, all the mayor jokes were flying at him.”
Koch and his teammates jump in their cars to make the short drive to Joe Faber Field, which is run by the city of St. Cloud.
The Huskies don’t have a home field on campus and regularly practice at Apollo High School when they aren’t playing.
“They are working on it and trying to figure out a way to get a field on campus,” Koch said. “With the economy, it has been tough.”
Who knows, maybe one day the business finance major can come up with a way to fund it. For now, it’s off to Joe Faber Field, which is has a nice stadium atmosphere.
St. Cloud State and Bemidji State catch a good day to play two in central Minnesota. It’s sunny, with temperatures in the 60s. The hitters also like the fact that the wind is blowing out diagonally toward the left-field foul pole.
The Huskies already have lost several games because of snowstorms in March and April. What really hurts is that they had scheduled 12 games in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, but those had to be rescheduled to accommodate repairs to the roof that collapsed under heavy snow earlier this year. So far this season, St. Cloud has traveled to Russellville, Ark.; Jacksonville, Ill.; Evansville, Ind.; and Edmond, Okla., to find warm weather to play road and neutral-site games.
Bemidji State wraps up infield practice, leaving Koch and his teammates to take the field.
During defensive drills, St. Cloud State coach Pat Dolan scribes the lineup. Koch isn’t starting the first game of the doubleheader, but he will end up playing an important role.
Like everyone else in the program, Dolan was initially surprised hearing that Koch had become a mayor, but then he realized it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
“He’s a great kid who comes from a great family, and it is good for our program,” said Dolan, who is in his fourth season at St. Cloud. “He’s our team representative on our student-athlete advisory committee, and a 3.8 student. He’s 23, but he’s been a man when it comes to maturity level.”
Koch was in the St. Cloud program before Dolan took over. Through the years, he’s become impressed with Koch’s work ethic.
“He’s turned into a solid baseball player,” Dolan said. “He’s made a lot of commitment in the weight room to become bigger and stronger. He’s definitely the first mayor I’ve ever coached. Hopefully, he’ll be the first former player who’s the president.”
The field is being prepared before the first pitch at 1:30.
In the stands, Koch’s parents, Herb and Shelley, have settled in seats behind the screen.
Koch was named Kent because his mother was expecting him while their beloved Minnesota Twins were playing in the 1987 World Series. First baseman Kent Hrbek was one of the heroes who led the Twins to the title.
In 1991, Koch’s younger brother, Kirby, was waiting to be born during the 1991 World Series. Thus he was named after future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who led the Twins to another title. Kirby is a freshman at St. Cloud State.
They have older brothers, Herb Jr. (29) and Nick (28), and a little sister, Kalley (14), who is in eighth grade. The Twins weren’t in the World Series when any of them were born.
The family loves sports, particularly baseball. Minnesota has a proud tradition of amateur town teams that compete in the sport during the summer.
Herb Koch Sr. has managed Loretto’s town team for years. Two years ago, all of the Koch males started a game for Loretto. Kirby played first base, Herb Sr. was at second, Kent played shortstop and Herb Jr. played third base. Nick was the pitcher.
Kent said his biggest highlight playing baseball was playing the game with his brothers and father.
“There were around 400 to 500 people who came out to watch,” Herb Sr. said. “It was kind of tribute to our family. It was a fun experience.”
Herb Sr. has lived in Loretto his entire life, and Shelley grew up in Delano, which is seven miles away. Herb Sr. voluntarily took care of the baseball field in Loretto for over three decades, and he also spent 29 years as the assistant fire chief and fire chief in the town. Shelly also worked for the town’s fire department for 12 years.
They have instilled community service in their children, so they are proud that Kent thought of running for mayor at such a young age.
“It just sounds like something Kent would do,” said Shelley Koch, whose town is 20 miles from Minneapolis. “He’s always been a leader, and he loves the city. His heart is in Loretto.”
They have both attended city council meetings since Kent has been mayor.
“He went to surrounding areas to sit in on their meetings,” Shelley Koch said. “They were impressed that he was interested in how they did things.”
Herb Sr. added: “On every sports team he’s been on, he’s been a captain. He takes charge of things. That’s just the way he is. He’s really thorough and plans ahead.”
The first game of the doubleheader is underway. It is a seven-inning game. Koch is not in the starting lineup, so he offers encouragement and stays ready should Dolan call on him to enter the game.
Bemidji State holds a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the third, partly because of two solo homers from left fielder Nick Jelacie. St. Cloud scores twice to cut the lead to 4-3. The score remains that way until the bottom of the fifth.
St. Cloud State is in the midst of a rally. The Huskies have already scored twice to take a one-run lead, and now they have runners on first and third with two outs with left-handed reliever Aaron Young on the mound.
Dolan calls on Koch to pinch-hit. He rips a double to left centerfield to score both base runners to break the game open.
“I just wanted a base hit and bring in an RBI,” said Koch, who entered the game batting .245 on the season. “I thought (Bemidji centerfielder Colton Smith) broke on it right away, but it kept tailing away and got by him. It felt good to get a clutch hit.”
St. Cloud scores another run in the sixth and wins the game, 8-4.
The second game of the doubleheader starts. Koch is batting seventh and playing second base. This is a scheduled nine-inning game.
Koch walks in his first plate appearance in the second inning and scores when catcher Travis Enger belts a three-run homer.
Koch draws another walk in the bottom of the fourth.
He again scores on a three-run homer; this time off the bat of left fielder Paul Imholte. St. Cloud has a 7-0 lead.
Pitcher Nick Maiers is making the game go quickly with a strong performance. That helps Koch, because the clock is ticking on when he needs to be in Loretto for the city council meeting.
Koch goes 0-for-2 the rest of the game, but he handle his only chance at second base flawlessly in the second inning.
Maiers goes 8 2/3 innings and allows only four hits. Schwenke, Koch’s roommate, comes into the game to register the last out of a 9-2 St. Cloud State victory.
The game ends at 6:05 p.m.
Koch rushes to the parking lot to make the drive to Loretto. He calls to let the other council members know he is on his way.
Koch arrives at City Hall, which is the top floor of the Loretto Fire Department. His family home is an outfield-to-home throw away.
He changes out of his uniform and into a pair of slacks and a gray golf shirt. Then he heads in to take his seat to run the meeting, which is already 17 minutes in.
The gavel is ceremoniously passed to Koch as he takes his seat in the middle of councilmen Jeff Tepfer, Clark Lohr, John Neumann and Tom Pederson. It is easy to see that Koch is well-versed on all the topics and respected by the others in the room.
One of the first items discussed after Koch’s arrival is a contest to select the city’s logo.
“We got approached by a marketing firm in the Twin Cities metro area who was offering to come up with a logo design, because our city doesn’t have one,” said Koch, whose mayoral term is two years. “For $1,500, they will come up with a logo design to put it on our envelopes and letterheads.”
One of the councilmen came up with the idea to hold a contest among Loretto citizens to design the logo and give the winner prizes.
Loretto is surrounded by farmland but it is more of a bedroom community for the Twin Cities.
The city has a general fund of about $400,000. They also have funds for things like wastewater, garbage recycling and storm water.
One of the looming topics that will generate more discussion is the cost from all the snow storms this winter. Depending on the year, expenses to clear streets can vary. This one has been tough on the budget. The final numbers will be known later.
The meeting ends at 8:04 p.m., and Koch still has some checks to sign to pay the city’s bills.
This is one of the briefest meetings Koch has experienced in his mayoral career.
“The first one after I was elected ended up running close to three hours,” Koch said. “When I got elected, so did two of the other councilmen, and all three of us looked at the two older council members and were wondering if all the meetings were going to be like that. They said the meeting after the election is normally pretty long. The next one was around two hours. This one cruised by.”
Koch arrives in St. Cloud after an hour-long drive back to campus.
During the trip, he reflected on his original idea of running for city council. The drawback was that the term for one of those positions is four years.
He thought the two-year term as mayor was better at this point in life. Being mayor has brought him some celebrity. He’s appeared on television in the Twin Cities and even was interviewed on ESPN2’s First Take.
It has also brought some job offers from the Twin Cities. After all, being the mayor of a city makes him a unique job candidate.
Koch wants to see how he enjoys his first term as mayor before committing to any full-time political career.
For now, he just wants to serve the Loretto community. Oh, and win a few games his senior year at St. Cloud State.
“Community involvement is important,” Koch said. “In small towns, the big thing is working together.”