This year's Kimberly Papermakers wear their hearts on their sleeves - literally.
One of the team's practice T-shirts has a "Worker" name label on the chest, like a mechanic's personalized shirt. Coach Ryan McGinnis said it's meant as an expression of Kimberly's blue-collar heritage and a constant reminder to work hard every day.
"Kimberly is a blue-collar community, back when the paper mills were in full force," McGinnis said. "And we respect that work ethic, that mentality, and so this shirt we wear a couple times a week to remind us that you need to bring your lunch pail to work every day and respect the work ethic."
That mentality has led Kimberly to its fourth straight appearance in the WIAA state baseball tournament, which begins Tuesday at Fox Cities Stadium. After struggling at the plate in the beginning of the season, McGinnis said the Papermakers started seeing pitches better, and the bats came alive at the right time.
"We struggled with our bats early on, and that’s hard in baseball. The biggest number everybody looks at is your batting average, and a lot of our guys’ batting averages were not very impressive for most of this season," he said. "None of them got selfish or pouty and really got sucked into their own ‘poor me’ mentality. They just continued to work and find ways to help the team win."
The Papermakers (19-7) have been to the state tourney 11 times before, but the last time they won it all was 2007. This year's team is looking to change that.
"It’s always the ultimate goal, and especially for all the teams in the past, you want to get there because you almost feel like you owe it to them to keep on their legacy as well as make your own," said senior pitcher Davis Matz. "Our goal is to win the state championship. That’s been our goal since we were a kid, you want to win state, go to the Fox Cities Stadium. And I feel like that’s our ultimate goal, just to win three and come home state champs."
"That’s a neat little streak, but I think what’s neater is these guys this year get to experience it," said McGinnis. "This group of guys gets to experience Fox Cities Stadium, playing on a big stage, being able to compete in a very high-pressure environment. That’s what it’s all about."
The Papermakers will be without shortstop/pitcher Danny Vanden Boom, who will be out of the game for a few weeks with a fractured first metatarsal, according to McGinnis.
Kimberly will face Waunakee (18-8) in the tournament's Game 4, which begins after Game 3, Green Bay Preble against Eau Claire North, is completed. The winners of Game 3 and 4 will meet later Tuesday night to play for a spot in the Division 1 championship game Thursday.