As part of its 8th annual event Friday evening, the Merrill Baseball Hall of Fame inducted five new members; Adam Cordova, Alex Grunenwald, Shawn Schultz, Mark Simon and Mike VanLieshout, and honored the AA Post 46 American Legion State Championship team of 2007.
The event was held at historic Athletic Park, following the first game of the annual Art Perkins Memorial Legion Baseball tournament.
Following are the 2018 inductees and a brief history of each, as presented by the Merrill Baseball Hall of Fame.
Son of Ed and Julie Cordova of Merrill, Adam and younger brother Alex were very accomplished baseball players in Merrill and beyond. Adam’s baseball career began on the Merrill Little League team at the age of 10. His greatest youth success took place when the Merrill Little League All-Star team won the state championship in 2002 in Wausau. Adam was the starting pitcher, throwing a complete game. His team then advanced to the regional tournament in Indianapolis, IN, where they lost to the eventual world championship team from Kentucky (4-1).
Adam would later become a two-year starter for the Bluejay varsity team, and the Post 46 Legion team, from 2007-2008 as an outfielder. He was a key member on the 2007 state champion American Legion team which won its championship in Baraboo that year. During his two-year career, Adam was an all-conference and all-district selection and was named to the all-state team as an outfielder in 2008. His cumulative batting average was over .400.
Following his high school career, Adam attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he became a four-year starter for the Eagles’ baseball team as an outfielder and designated hitter. Also a two-year team captain for the Eagles, Adam compiled 14 home runs, 49 doubles, 118 RBI’s, 112 runs and a .309 cumulative batting average through the course of his 155 game college career. His accomplishments on the field earned Adam First Team-Academic All American honors in 2013 as well as 3-time All-WIAC selection. Cordova graduated from UW-La Crosse in 2012 with a Bachelors Degree and again in 2015 with a Physical Therapy Doctoral Degree. Following graduation, Adam married wife Greta and the couple now resides in Waukesha where both work as physical therapists.
Son of Bob and Janet Grunenwald of Merrill, Alex’s baseball career also started early. At the age of 8, Alex began playing baseball in Merrill Little League at Lions Park. He also played on traveling teams coached by Ed Cordova, Dan Lemon and Doug Grisa. He pitched, hit and helped his 12-year-old All-Star teammates to the 2002 Wisconsin Little League State Championship and a regional tournament berth in Indianapolis, IN.
While attending Merrill High School, Alex was a three-sport athlete from 2005-2008. He lettered eight times in the sports of football, basketball and baseball. In three years of playing varsity quarterback for the Bluejays, Grunenwald piled up over 3,800 yards through the air and 37 touchdowns en route to becoming the school’s all-time passing leader. He was also a two-time All-Wisconsin Valley Conference (WVC) selection. As a varsity Bluejay first baseman, Alex became the school’s career homerun leader with 11, second in career RBI’s with 57, and fifth in career batting average (.415). As a senior, Alex won the Steve Walsh MVP award and was named an All-WVC, All-District and WIAA All-State selection in 2007 and 2008; in both athletics and academics. Alex competed in the 2008 Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-Star Classic in Oshkosh.
Following graduation from MHS, Grunenwald accepted a Division 1 Baseball Scholarship to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. He red shirted the first year and at the end of the year transferred to Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Chandler, AZ where he continued to play first base. In his two years in Chandler-Gilberts Wood Bat League, he led his team each year with 57 hits, 32 RBI, while batting a .326 average. He was named team captain as well as a National Junior College Athletic Associations (NJCAA) Academic All-American.
In 2012, Alex accepted another D1 baseball scholarship, this time to University of Illinois-Chicago. He was named to the All Newcomer Team in 2012, 2nd Team All-League in 2012 and 1st Team All League in 2013. He finished in the top five in the league in batting average his junior year. In his final season, Alex led the Horizon League in homeruns and RBI’s. He also was selected to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team in 2012 and 2013.
As a senior, Alex was a finalist for the Cecil N. Coleman award honoring outstanding achievement in athletics and academics across all sports in the Horizon League Conference. Alex graduated from UIC in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kineseology and chose to pursue a career in medicine rather than baseball. That fall, Alex enrolled at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. He received his medical degree last May.
Currently Dr. Grunenwald is in his second year of residency at McLaren Macomb Hospital in Sterling Heights, Michigan (a suburb of Detroit) specializing in Emergency Medicine.
Mark was born in Sheboygan and played baseball in the Sheboygan Recreational Program from little league, through Babe Ruth and later American Legion Baseball.
“Coming from a large family of eight children, money was tight,” Mark adds, “But my parents saw the value of athletics and always made sure we had the equipment to play ball every day.”
After Legion ball, Mark played in the Land O’ Lakes League for the Sheboygan A’s.
Mark went to college at UW-La Crosse where he was a team member for three years. Mark pitched in the summer for the Sheboygan A’s, then Slinger in the Rock River League and then in the Milwaukee Langsdorf League.
Mark signed with the Minnesota Twins after his junior year at La Crosse and went on two seasons of Minor League Baseball.
Simon took a teaching and coaching job at DC Everest in 1968 and married his wife Barb, who was teaching at Everest. Mark and Barb have two children; Kristen (who coaches varsity volleyball at Eau Claire Memorial High School), and Mike who is a volunteer varsity baseball coach at Appleton North High School. Both children had the good fortune to play on state championship teams while in high school.
Mark continued to play during the summers with the Wausau Legion Alumni in the Wisconsin State League and then for the Wausau Barrons in the Cloverbelt League.
At this time, Mark was invited to play with the Merrill Giants until 1984 when he played with and coached the Everest Merchants. He was part of five WBA state championship teams and remained an active player until the age of 52.
“Many things and stories are shared in dugouts over the years but two that come to mind are Roger Baumgardt shouting ‘The Diamond is tipping!’ as Bobby Klug and Dale Zimmer, two of our larger players, were churning around the bases at Henrich’s Club,” Mark recollects. “Another is when the day catcher Dave Detert gave umpire Terry Terrance the nickname ‘Visine’ for his calling of the pitches. The name stuck.
“Finally I would like to thank the people of Merrill who supported baseball through the years, either by watching the Giants play or financial support to keep the program going. I have always felt Merrill has been a hot bed for baseball in the area because of this support. I would also like to thank two good friends; Daryl Berndt and Bill Helmuth for inviting me to play for the Giants and enjoy the many years we were able to play together.”
Shawn graduated from Merrill High School in 1989. He was a three-time letter winner in baseball as well as letter winner in basketball.
Shawn played three years for the Merrill Bluejays varsity baseball team, earning First Team All-Conference honors in 1989. He also had the honor of playing in the WBCA All-Star game in Appleton.
Shawn played college ball at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from 1992-1994. One of Shawn’s most memorable collegiate highlights includes being the starting and winning pitcher versus the top ranked Division 2 team in the country; UW-Oshkosh.
Shawn began his coaching career in 1993 by helping coach Junior League and Little League here in Merrill. And in 1996, he began coaching the 8th grade team, Legion team and Assistant Coach for the MHS varsity baseball squad. Shawn continues to help with the American Legion team, Merrill Rangers (for 30 years) and in 2015; he was promoted to the head coach position for the Merrill Bluejay varsity baseball team.
As Merrill’s American Legion coach, Shawn has led teams to two AA State Championships (2005 and 2007) as well as five third-place finishes. Shawn has dedicated a majority of his adult life to helping the Merrill Baseball program at all levels, as well as the community. Shawn spends countless hours volunteering his time and is a fixture around a lot of ball fields in town, especially Athletic Park.
Shawn and his wife Laurie reside in Merrill, along with their two daughters, Molly and Bethany.
Category 3-Major Contrbutor/Ambassador of Merrill Baseball
Mike was raised in Kimberly, Wisconsin. He graduated from Kimberly High School in 1968 and UW-Oshkosh in 1972 with a degree in Special Education. After graduating from college, he enlisted in the US Army and served for four years. He then began his teaching career in Union Grove, where he taught for three years. Mike took a leave of absence to pursue graduate school at UW-Oshkosh. In 1978, he accepted a Special Education teaching position at Merrill Junior High that lasted 27 years.
After arriving in Merrill, Mike dove into community service with the Lions Club where he met several veterans who encouraged him to join the American Legion. It wasn’t long before he became the commander of the American Legion post and remained in that position for about 25 years.
In 1980, Van Lieshout took up the position of Vice Chair of the Legion Baseball Committee under the tutelage of Jiggs Heideman where he learned the ins and outs of keeping the Legion Baseball Team alive. Mike immediately started to find ways of making money to keep the team up and running. He and his wife Jo brought lawn chairs, coolers of soda and many bags of chips to sell to players and their fans. This was all done on the grass behind the first base side.
Jiggs Heideman and Warren Weckwerth, both long time Legion members, stated that without Mike’s commitment and efforts, Merrill would have lost its Legion baseball team on several occasions. Mike and Jiggs had a goal of investigating what it would take to get the State American Legion tournament in Merrill. Mike traveled to many cities including Kimberly, Kaukauna, Shawano and Beaver Dam – just to name a few – to check out the tournament facilities and how it was organized. He discovered that Merrill was one of the few cities that had Legion members at every game. The process included many updates at Athletic Park in order to get state approval. These updates included a new concession stand, an electronic scoreboard, updated bathrooms and new dugouts – all made possible through the efforts of all stakeholders: Merrill Baseball Association, Merrill Rangers, Little League, Senior League, and Merrill High School and Legion.
Finally in 2005, the state granted Merrill the tournament for 2007 – too late for Jiggs to see the tournament come to fruition. At the first tournament, the state baseball commissioner was very impressed with Merrill’s historic Athletic Park. So far, Merrill has hosted three state tournaments in addition to many regional tournaments.
For 36 years, Mike was involved in Merrill’s Legion Baseball Team in one capacity or another; whether fundraising, finding workers for games, working with the coaches, setting up the end of the year steak fry or even on occasion being the umpire. This would mean Mike having attended approximately 720 games.
Mike continues to live in Merrill with his wife Jo. His son John lives in Merrill with wife Katie and their children Emma, Colton and Piper. John is following in his father’s footsteps-Commander and Legion ball proponent. Mike also has a daughter Becca, who lives in Madison with her husband Jesse and children Nykola and Nevada.
Mike is honored to accept this award with extreme gratitude to all the Legion members past and present, who helped him on this journey of keeping Legion baseball alive in Merrill.
2007 AA Post 46 American Legion State Champions–
Team members: Tyler Thiel, Jason Berndt, Adam Cordova, Alex Mueller, Mitch Badeau, Jared Lemon, Chris Lammert, Aaron Hanson, Michael Yorde
Coaches Shawn Schultz and Josh Osness, Ben Natzke, Tony Ellenbecker, Sean Kollmer, Alex Grunenwald, Ryan Leavitt, Joe Akey, Aaron Erickson.
Tournament was held at Mary Rountree Park in Baraboo.
The 2007 team finished 27-5 overall and was also the Wisconsin Valley Legion League regular season champions with a 13-3 league mark.
During the season, Post 46 swept Plover and finished on a 17 game winning streak. For the season, Post 46 had 8 players with batting averages over .300. Adam Cordova had 45 RBI and Alex Grunenwald led the team with six homeruns. Chris Lammert (9-0), Alex Mueller (8-0) and Sean Kollmer (4-0) were all undefeated on the season.
River Falls: 11-0 (5)
Medford: 12-2 (6)
Beaver Dam: 13-12
Kewaunee County: 11-1 (5)
Over the 8 playoff games, Post 46 scored 85 runs and batted .384 with 32 extra base hits.