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What’s in a name? Jim Strommen’s baseball legacy
Jim Stroman Field

By Natalie Dillon


BLANCHARDVILLE — When Jim Strommen first stepped foot on the baseball field at McKellar Park as the new head coach in 1980, he had no idea that he’d be surrounded by friends and family on June 16, 2024, as the field would be named after him. 

“You just start,” he said. “You don’t get into it for that.”

In 45 years as the head coach for Pecatonica baseball, Strommen has led the Vikings to 19 conference championships, 12 regional titles, one sectional title and a state runner-up finish in 2023. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004.

During the state run, Strommen was closing in on Royall’s Joe Vitcenda as Wisconsin’s all-time winningest coach. If Pecatonica had won state, the two would have been tied with 647 wins — a feat that former Blanchardville Bullets teammates Scott Ingwell and Pat Hardyman knew had to be honored. Begin: Operation Strommen.

A crew of former teammates, coaches and Pecatonica alumni officers — Hardyman, Ingwell, Joslyn Gant, Gary McKenzie, Ken McKenzie, Rocky Bredeson, Steve Anderson, Tom Kammerude, Shari Eidsmoe O’Conner, Gene Spellman and Rick Gordon — set the plan into motion to honor Strommen in September 2023. By October 30, Gant had a resolution written and presented it to the Park Board, where it was approved in a meeting. The same resolution was then approved by the Village Board November 6. That’s when Strommen first got wind of the plan.

“I read my resolution that I had given the week before to the Park Board,” Gant said of the phone call with Strommen. “When I finished, I heard nothing. Not even crickets. I remember taking the phone away from my ear to see if we had been disconnected and we weren’t. Finally, I said ‘Are you there?’ and after some serious stuttering, I heard ‘I’m here.’”

Flash forward to this past Father’s Day — June 16, 2024 — and the plan was fully realized. Strommen sat on the field among his closest family and friends with the Blanchardville community, Blanchardville Bullets and Hollandale Rockies in the stands and bleachers for the naming ceremony. Ken McKenzie, master of ceremonies, opened before Father Luke Syse blessed the field. Kammerude, Nancy Hendrickson, Strommen’s sister Rosann Myers and his step-daughter Amy Anderson Carr spoke. Ken McKenzie, Nate Dammen, Bredeson and Anderson then unveiled the new signage before Strommen — with coaches Kammerude and Jim Carter and catcher Scott Kleppe — threw out the first pitch before the Home Talent game.

Although Strommen (663-229) is still two wins behind Vitcenda (665-389) at the end of the 2024 season, the naming was for more than the record.

“Tom (Kammerude) said it best,” Ingwell said. “This honor isn’t about the record wins, but about how Jim has been successful in teaching, coaching, mentoring, leading and getting these young men ready for what lies ahead.”

Jim Stroman


In the 1980s, Black Hawk and Belleville were front-runners in the then-named Stateline League. Pecatonica was still making a name for itself, having won a conference championship in 1972 and regional championships in 1972 and 1978.

In Strommen’s second season, 1982, the Vikings clinched their second conference title with a win over Argyle. It was the first of Strommen’s 19 league titles to date. Chuck Chandler, an all-conference outfielder on the team, looked back at the moment as a milestone in Pecatonica program history.

“It was a turning point,” Chandler said. “Belleville and Black Hawk were powerhouses. Winning the conference proved to us that we can start our own dynasty.”

That same season, Pecatonica won its third regional title and advanced to play Cassville in sectionals. During practice before the big game, one of Strommen’s players took a knee while shagging balls in the outfield. Chandler recalled how Strommen began to pepper the outfield.

“Some coaches might overlook it,” Chandler said. “He took it seriously. We were on bonus time. He said, ‘You’ve got the biggest game of your life tomorrow and you kneel. We don’t operate that way.’ He set the tone as a young 28-year-old. You knew this guy was going to go places.”

After all, everything matters in baseball. 



As Strommen was building the program, he instilled in his players preparation, dedication and accountability. 

Gary McKenzie, who coached with Strommen in 1980 before covering sports for the Pecatonica Valley Leader, remembers how there may have been more players in the early years of Strommen’s career, but now they are more developed.

“He taught them to be prepared and think ahead,” Gary McKenzie said. “‘What do I do if the ball is hit to me?’ There were other teams that had more talent where we had lost some to graduation. But they were disciplined and coached so well that they still went out and won a conference championship.”

Chandler echoed McKenzie, remembering how practices were just as hard as games.

“We were more prepared than our opponents — nothing surprised us,” Chandler said. “He (Strommen) never got outcoached, ever.”

Another major shift occurred when Strommen got Pecatonica into the Babe Ruth League. Players began to dedicate more time to baseball in the summer, which translated to improvement during the high school season.

“Strommen expected these kids to get better on their own. I made sure I got Brooks there,” Chandler said of his son who played for Strommen from 2013 to 2016, earning Six Rivers East Player of the Year in 2016. “If you came back next spring and didn’t get better, you’d be watching other kids play.”

In the ’90s, Pecatonica won five conference championships — 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, and 1999. Although they didn’t win the league, the 1991 and 1992 teams were regional champions. The Babe Ruth team, also coached by Strommen, began to be a good feeder program for the kids going into high school.

“When you win, it trickles down to little league,” said Larry Schliem, who became assistant coach 13 years ago. “When you win, everyone coming up wants to be the next team to win.”

Jim Strommen


Larry Schliem’s own son, Drew, was one of those kids that began to admire Strommen and the high school team from a young age. Drew Schliem was a manager for the team in 2010 and 2011 before playing shortstop and pitcher from 2012 to 2015.

“Coach Strommen has been someone that I have looked up to since I was just a little kid growing up watching Pec teams,” Drew Schliem said. “He has certainly been a mentor to me in life, as I had him as a teacher as well. I look up to him and respect him in many ways as a person and coach.”

Larry and Drew joined Pecatonica baseball at a time when the Vikings were really cementing their name in the Six Rivers East. After a six-year drought since their last conference championship in 2009, the Vikings won the league in 2015 — the start of a nine-year streak that extends to the 2024 season. In that time, Strommen earned his 500th and 600th career wins. Only four other active coaches in Wisconsin baseball have amassed 500 career wins.

“Being the first year of the nine consecutive conference championships is certainly one of my proudest memories,” Drew Schliem said. “Pec baseball was always competitive, and we had some great teams through the ’90s and early 2000s. We had a few down years and then in 2014 was when we started to piece back the puzzle and really bring back that winning tradition that I believe has carried into today’s teams.”

The culture and tradition extended beyond the team, as the communities of Blanchardville and Hollandale continued to support and look forward to the baseball season each year to see how the Vikings would fare. As Strommen described, it’s an iceberg: People tend to see only the starters and coaches — the tip of the iceberg — but beneath the water are the future starters, managers, parents, community members and fans that make up the base of the program — the part which isn’t seen. 

While the wins and conference championships kept piling up, one goal remained elusive — getting to state.

Jim Strommen


For the last four seasons, the WIAA state baseball tournament in Appleton has been in the back of Strommen’s head. So much so that the team has done the ‘Appleton Challenge’ where they split into the Cardinals, Braves and Brewers to answer baseball trivia. Each correct answer is one step closer to Appleton.

“It’s a challenge to get to Appleton and have it in the back of their heads,” Larry Schliem said. 

The 2023 season went much like those in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022 — winning conference and securing a regional title. All along the way, Larry Schliem would tell Strommen, ‘There’s one. There’s another one. One step closer.’

Unlike the previous seasons, Pecatonica hosted sectionals at McKellar Park. Playing on home turf proved beneficial, as the top-seeded Vikings defeated 2-seed Potosi-Cassville 2-1 and 3-seed Johnson Creek 5-2 to win Strommen’s first sectional title and punch their ticket to the WIAA Division 4 state tournament. 

“When the last out was made to go, we hugged,” Larry Schliem said of the pop up to then-senior Coy Ruegsegger on the mound. “I don’t think we said anything. I didn’t know what to say. We just lived in the moment. After it all calmed down, I told him, ‘And we got that one.’”

Although the first day of the state tournament was delayed due to weather — Pecatonica was originally slated to play at 10:30 a.m. but first pitch wasn’t until 8 p.m. — walking out on Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium was an unforgettable experience. Strommen, who had not hit infield all season due to an injury, was able to hit to the team at state. 

“He was a kid in a candy store that first day,” Larry Schliem said. “There was no way I was taking that (hitting infield) away from him.”

Although that season didn’t end the way Pecatonica had hoped — a 7-6 walk-off loss in the championship game — the state berth further solidified Strommen’s name into Wisconsin baseball history.

“I think Coach Strommen’s legacy has always been there, but finally getting to state in 2023 was the final straw that people started to realize how great he really has been when reflecting on his history,” Drew Schliem said. 


In addition to naming Pecatonica’s baseball field after Strommen, Gant secured another surprise — Strommen will throw out the first pitch of the Brewer game against Pittsburgh on July 11. 

“I asked him ‘Are you doing anything on Thursday, July 11, 2024?’ He laughed and said ‘No’. I then said ‘Good, cause you are now. You are throwing out the first pitch when the Milwaukee Brewers take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:10 p.m.’ This time, there were no crickets, just ‘Wow, oh wow, wow, oh wow.’”

To date, 438 tickets have been sold for the first Blanchardville Community Day at American Family Field with other community members buying on their own. That’s enough to fill two sections in right field. Two charter buses and a mini coach have been secured for the event, with others driving independently.

The Brewer game can be streamed on MLB.TV with a subscription.


BLANCHARDVILLE — Nine Rockies came to the plate in a four-run sixth inning that proved to be the difference in a Home Talent game against Hollandale (4-1) and Blanchardville (2-3) June 16. 

Everett Johnson led the Bullets, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Colton Schraepfer and Cole Breuer also drove in runs. Drew Schliem suffered the loss, giving up five runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked three.