Area Male Athlete: Aitkin's Sanford hitting and getting hit toward success

Jeb Sanford is a glutton for punishment. During the football season he's usually the one inflicting the pain, but on the baseball diamond, the Aitkin Gobblers senior takes a licking and keeps on ticking. During a two-week stretch the No. 4 hitter...

Jeb Sanford
Jeb Sanford


Jeb Sanford is a glutton for punishment.

During the football season he's usually the one inflicting the pain, but on the baseball diamond, the Aitkin Gobblers senior takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

During a two-week stretch the No. 4 hitter was hit by six pitches. He is Minnesota's all-time leader in getting beaned. He's been hit by a pitch 34 times with four regular season games left and the playoffs. The previous record was 29 times.

"When I was younger it was a goal of my to get hit by a pitch," said Sanford. "I was nervous about just keeping my spot on the team so I was just trying to get on base anyway I could. I crowded the plate back then and now I'm so used to being right on top of the plate basically it's just how I hit. I don't go up looking to get hit, but since I'm right on the plate it just happens a lot."


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Jeb Sanford

  • Year: Senior
  • School: Aitkin
  • Sport: Baseball
  • Position: Pitcher
  • Highlights: Threw a no-hitter against Moose Lake-Willow River and pitched a victory against Crosby-Ironton

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Aitkin head coach Jeremy Jenzen said you could hit Sanford in the head and it wouldn't matter calling his captain a bulldog.

"He will do whatever it takes to win," Janzen said. "He is the ultimate competitor. He hates to lose. He probably hates to lose to his youngest brother in a ping pong game. He loves to compete and he's a super nice kid. He's one of our captains."

Sanford developed the 'bulldog' attitude at an early age and it's carried him to success as a varsity athlete. It's even translated into an opportunity to play college football next fall at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D.

"Probably being undersized has always given me an attitude when it comes to sports," said Sanford. "I've always felt like I'm a step behind everyone because I'm 5-foot-8. Just having to work harder than anyone else because I wasn't given the height and weight and all that. I started young, in elementary."

Sanford threw 91 pitches over seven innings for a 3-2 victory over Crosby-Ironton May 15. He scattered seven hits and allowed two earned runs. He struck out five and walked one.


He helped his own cause with a run scoring double. He also scored during a three-run sixth inning.

In a 12-2 win over Onamia May 12, Sanford went 2-2 with a double, three runs and a run batted in. He was hit by a pitch and walked.

He was 1-2 with four runs against Pine City May 10. He was hit by a pitch three times.

"In that Pine City game, he gets hit by a pitch three times, but he was stealing third and the third baseman jumped and his cleat landed on Jeb's hand," said Janzen. "The blood was dripping off his hand and I just told him don't get it on your uniform because then you'll have to come out of the game. Then his next at bat, he gets hit on the hand in the exact same spot he just got stepped on. This kid just takes a beating and shows up the next day is ready to go. He's just tough."

Sanford was hit by another pitch in a 9-3 victory over Pequot Lakes May 8. He finished 1-3 with a run and pitched 2 ⅓ inning of relief to earn the win. He struck out three, walked one and allowed one earned run.

"This season has been great because we really don't have any conflicts with playing time," Sandford said. "All the starters are seniors so we're not really worried about losing our position. We don't have any stress because of that so we're really loose and we just try not to put too much pressure on ourselves.

"One of my goals was to continue our conference win streak. We have two more conference games (Friday) and if we win those we will have won 75 straight. Another goal is to make it back to state. We'll see how that goals. My other goals were more personal and concerned the team and having fun."

On May 5, Sanford needed just 71 pitches to strike out five, walk three and no hit the Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels over five innings in a 15-0 victory.


Sanford was 2-4 with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored.

"My curveball was working pretty well in that game and I threw a few of real good changeups to their top batters in the order," said Sanford. "I was really able to change things up real good.

"Last year, I only had three pitches so in the offseason I worked a lot on that change up and I've continued to have success on my slider, curveball and fastball. I got the changeup this year. It's worked pretty well. I mainly use it against better hitters to keep them off balance. It's not 100 percent yet, but I've been able to get the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters hitting pop-ups and ground balls."

On the season he's 5-0 with 26 strikeouts over 26 innings pitched. He's only walked nine. He's given up five earned runs for an ERA of 1.34.

"He's a great leader. He's a great program guy. He leads by example and he's a fun kid to coach."


Other notable performances:

Baseball: Brandon Wolski, Pine River-Backus, finished 3-4 with two home runs, a double, six RBIs and three runs against Blackduck.

Caleb Curtiss, Aitkin, struck out eight and allowed just two runs and went 2-3 with a double and four RBIs against Pine City.

Ty Klimek and Matt Steege, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, combined to pitch a no-hitter against Ottertail Central.

Matt Tautges, Pierz, finished 4-5 with a double, three runs and an RBI against Paynesville.

Lane Girtz, Pierz, finished 5-7 with three doubles against Kimball.

Jake Larson, Crosby-Ironton, finished 3-4 with two runs against Pillager and 5-6 with five runs and three RBIs against McGregor.

Justin Dykhoff, Wadena-Deer Creek, hit a two-run homer and scored another run against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale and also pitched the victory.

Dylan Quade, Aitkin, finished 2-3 with a double, RBI, two runs and three stolen bases against Onamia.

Noah Gindorff, Crosby-Ironton, finished 4-5 with three doubles, triple, three runs and eight RBIs against McGregor.

Golf: Nick Smith, Aitkin, shot 78 to win Great River Conference meet at Fiddlestix.

Brady Raph, Pine River-Backus, shot 77 to win a Mid-Minn Conference meet at Whitetail Run.

Track and field: Max Giza, Staples-Motley, won the pole vault, 110- and 300-meter hurdles and was part of the winning 4x400 relay team at the Dave Sieben Invite.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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