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Baseball “freak” re-writes history

Regis+Head+Coach+Andy+Niese+coaching+on+the+third+base+side+during+a+game+against+Cadott.+%C2%A92019+Adam+Pearson.
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Baseball “freak” re-writes history

Regis Head Coach Andy Niese coaching on the third base side during a game against Cadott. ©2019 Adam Pearson.

Regis Head Coach Andy Niese coaching on the third base side during a game against Cadott. ©2019 Adam Pearson.

Regis Head Coach Andy Niese coaching on the third base side during a game against Cadott. ©2019 Adam Pearson.

Regis Head Coach Andy Niese coaching on the third base side during a game against Cadott. ©2019 Adam Pearson.

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By Adam Pearson

From the age of 9 to now, 45-year-old Andy Niese has lived and breathed the game of baseball. As head coach of the Regis High School varsity team, manager of the Chippewa River Baseball League’s Eau Claire Rivermen, and player for the Rivermen, Niese spends a lot of time on a baseball field. But what Niese does off the field may be the epitome of his long-time love affair with the game.

“When I got into the [CRBL] in 1993, I was very attentive and respectful of the older guys and them talking about the league going back decades into the early 1900’s and how their dads and grandpas played,” Niese said. “So, I just started digging.”

Conversations with veteran teammates on the Chippewa Falls Lumberjacks would spark something in Niese that would inspire him to create a reference point for the entire CRBL. A record book, documenting every player and every stat dating back to the very beginning of the league, was Niese’s vision. But what it has become is something Niese never expected.

Beginning in 2003, Niese spent countless hours at the Chippewa library getting microfilm of Chippewa Herald box scores and game summaries from the CRBL dating back to 1908, the year he believes the league began. Niese’s library sessions would usually be three to four hours at a time, sometimes multiple times a day, consisting of him staring at tiny print within the microfilm all while trying to keep his two daughters occupied in the children’s section.

Now a regular at the library, librarians began to recognize Niese. One librarian, Niese’s brother, Joe, would serve as his “inside guy,” making sure microfilm stations were open when Niese got there and helping him in any way he could.

“He did so much heavy lifting with [microfilm],” Joe said. “Slogging through microfilm is just insane.”

This insane process of research continued for six years, totaling what Niese estimated to be over 800 hours, and despite all the work, Niese was still unable to find all the box scores. To find these missing statistics, Niese developed his own algorithm by using “statistical averages” based on stats he did have about the players.

“Is it exact? No,” Niese acknowledges. “But it’s pretty close to what it should be.”

Following those first six years of research, the inaugural copy of the CRBL record book was completed in 2009 and, later that same year, found its way into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, courtesy of Niese’s wife, Brandie Niese.

“I went online, found the contact for the library and emailed them,” she said, “They were truly interested in it.”

Niese was sent a document from the Hall of Fame certifying his donation and now almost 200 pages of CRBL history can be found in Cooperstown – but Niese hasn’t stopped there. With each passing season, updates are made to the book. Most notably, this past winter, Niese spent more than 100 hours – the most since 2009 – updating the book which is now 400 pages plus.

With the amount of time and energy put into creating and maintaining this book, one would assume that Niese has made a decent profit since releasing the first copy – something to make this “worth it.” However, Niese says he has made “pennies on the dollar” off the record book, adding that he isn’t doing it for the money. What means most to Niese is how much the book means to past players and their families.

Remembering and honoring players through the CRBL Hall of Fame process has caused families to reach out to Niese to express gratitude towards him for recognizing their family member for the time, energy and passion they put in playing small-town, amateur baseball.

“I have had grown men look at it and start crying,” Niese said. “People have called me on the phone: relatives, siblings, children of deceased players crying on the phone. It has been just a cool, humbling thing to be a part of.”

When a player is inducted into the CRBL Hall of Fame, Niese writes each player’s biography which he then reads at the induction ceremony during the CRBL All-Star game at the end of each season. These inductions and biographies are then added into the record book itself as an update. Another update is the all-time leaders’ list which, this past winter, had to be updated as a new All-Time Hits Leader was crowned; that player being Andy Niese – adding to the reasons why he will need to find someone to write his own Hall of Fame biography one day.

A former player and current assistant coach and teammate of Niese’s, Sawyer Sturz, says Niese describes other baseball players who impress him as “freaks.” As a player, coach, data collector, record keeper and record breaker for the CRBL, Niese may fit his own description for that label.

Niese plans to keep playing until he physically can’t anymore. But as for the record book…

“Until my days are over on this planet,” Niese said. “I’ll keep doing it.”

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Baseball “freak” re-writes history