They came from large universities, small community colleges and all areas of the country.
Their coaches and assistants had as diverse backgrounds as the players they recruited.
The main draw to the Gem City on the Plains during the months of June and July for those who played for the Laramie Colts summer collegiate baseball team was a chance to learn, improve and play the game of baseball.
After 14 years and 13 seasons of wood-bat summers, the Colts are no more.
A tough decision
The move was made by co-owners Kent and Nicko Kleppinger early last fall after an owner’s meeting for the Rocky Mountain Baseball League. The main concerns were the direction of the league that would have decreased competition and increased travel.
The RMBL has been a well-established league comprised of teams from the Denver metro area as well as Sterling, Colorado, and Laramie. The league was also affiliated with the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kansas, sending the regular-season champion and the winner of the RMBL postseason tournament to the series.
“The league is certainly changing, and when we had our fall meeting, two or three teams were out for different reasons,” Kent Kleppinger said. “That left about five teams counting us. The size of the league was a big concern.
“They were also talking about bringing in several teams from down in Colorado Springs. So I said, ‘’wait a minute, are you expecting us and Sterling (Xpress) to drive back and forth from Colorado Springs to play games? And you are expecting Colorado Springs teams to drive all the way to Laramie to play games?
“The other real concern was the people (owners) who are left are people I’m not that excited about. I’ve had some really good, close friends who owned teams in this league and they are all gone. The guys who have helped in this league and were supportive are gone.
“I loved doing baseball — that wasn’t the problem. I thought this would be a good time to bow out and retire.”
The Colts had 10 head coaches in 13 seasons and an overall record of 283 wins and 242 losses.
The early years
The idea of summer collegiate baseball in Laramie began about 15 years ago.
Heidi Peterson, who has a background in marketing, saw an advertisement from the founders of the former Mountain Collegiate Baseball League.
“It was one of those things when I asked (her husband) Matt if he was in or out because I really want to do this,” Heidi Peterson said. “He said, ‘I’m in.’ We both love sports and it was one of things that wasn’t happening in Laramie at the time. I don’t know if we knew what we would be getting ourselves into, nor would we change anything.
“But it was certainly worth it and a lot of fun.”
The Colts joined the Cheyenne Grizzlies, Fort Collins Foxes and the Greeley Grays for the core of the MCBL. Two other teams — the Parker Express and Casper Cutthroats — joined the league for brief periods.
The first two Colts coaches were Brad Averette in 2005 and Kevin Moulder in 2006. Averette’s squad went 27-18 in the inaugural season and Moulder’s was 30-18 and won the MCBL postseason tournament.
Ryan Goodwin took over the program for the next three seasons. He was just starting his coaching career and was at an impasse in life with personal issues.
“I was likely going to get out of coaching and I happened to see an ad for the Laramie Colts,” Goodwin said. “I was taking a sabbatical from coaching at the time. For whatever reason I decided to apply and after talking with Matt Peterson, something felt right. It was the biggest blessing I ever had in my life and motivated me to stay in coaching.”
The Colts went 30-12 in 2007 and won the regular-season title, 36-15 in 2008 and swept both titles and 26-23 in 2009 and won the MCBL tournament.
“I don’t talk to the guys much anymore, but the few times we do reminisce 2007 still eats at us that we won the regular season and didn’t finish the job in the playoffs,” Goodwin said.
Heidi Peterson added: “Ryan knew how to build relationships. I still talk to him. He knew the players’ attitude when they walked on the field or needed to get benched or get them out there when he could see they were in a groove.”
Goodwin has since been an assistant coach at Metro State, Washburn and Jackson State. He became head coach at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, for two years and will be entering his fifth season as head coach at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, near where he grew up.
“None of this would’ve ever happened if it wasn’t for the faith Matt Peterson showed me and I can’t thank him and Heidi enough. The two of them were such influences for me and every guy who came through that program.
“Growing up in Kansas, the last thing I ever thought of was spending a summer or even going to the state of Wyoming.”
The Petersons sold the Colts organization to the Kleppingers after the 2009 season.
They currently live on their CHAMP Ranch near Tie Siding. Matt still owns and operates Colt Construction as a general contractor. Heidi is a manager for three associations — executive director for a construction coalition and the state chamber and works for a mining association for events and membership.
The move to the RMBL
The Colts continued in the MCBL with Nate Schwartz coaching in 2010, going 11-29, and Marty Berson coaching in 2011 going 21-17, and 2012 with a 14-28 record.
Berson came to Laramie from Southern California with an extensive and accomplished 36-year coaching career at the high school and college levels.
It was with the Colts where Berson surpassed 700 wins in his career.
“There was a time when Marty Berson was the coach and we had the bases loaded and he had everybody steal at the same time,” Kleppinger said. “There was so much chaos, the other team just stood there, watched it happen and didn’t know what to do. I just thought that was magical.”
At the same time, Kleppinger developed relationships with owners from the larger league in Colorado. Soon after, the RMBL accepted the Colts’ entry. But the decision from the league was in February of 2013, which made it impossible to hire coaches, recruit players and field a team for that summer.
The Colts resumed action with James Clark as coach for the next two seasons. Laramie went 24-12 in 2014 and 21-17 in 2015.
Joe Millbury started coaching the Colts in 2016, but was released from the team because of internal differences with Kleppinger. Assistants Chris Kemper and Kolton Mayall took over for a 19-16 record after starting 3-7. Kemper and Mayall returned 2017 to go 14-19.
Ryan Hargrove coached the Colts last season to a 10-18 record.
The Colts had too many quality players to count with nearly all of them going back to their schools as better baseball players. Some were later drafted by Major League Baseball teams — including one player who blossomed after his time in Laramie.
Right-handed pitcher Blake Treinen was with the Colts in 2009. His stat line didn’t stand out with six appearances, an 0-4 record and a 14.06 earned run average. Treinen allowed 30 hits, 25 earned runs with 11 strikeouts and 13 walks.
“There was no doubt in the months we had (Treinen), you could see he had arm talent to eventually go into the professional level,” Goodwin said. “He was still finding himself as a pitcher, and my pitching coach (Justin Wichert, now the head coach at Trinidad State Junior College) had a real good effect on him as far as velocity.”
“He had a lot of arm soreness, and I wasn’t ever going to try to burn someone’s arm out throwing him selfishly.”
Treinen was drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2010, but the Marlins withdrew their offer when an MRI revealed shoulder inflammation. The Oakland A’s selected him in the seventh round in 2011. He later pitched for the Washington Nationals from 2013-17, bouncing between minor leagues and returned to Oakland in 2018.
Last season with the A’s, Treinen established himself as arguably the best closer in MLB with his first All-Star selection. He had 38 saves in 43 chances, a 0.78 ERA, 100 strikeouts, 21 walks and 12 runs with seven of those earned in 80.1 innings pitched.
Another player during the same time period was Daniel “Ike” Eichelberger, who played for the Colts from 2007-09. He delivered the game-winning, walk-off single in the 11th inning during the 2008 postseason against the Fort Collins Foxes to claim the MCBL title.
“He was out a month with a broken foot and had not played in a game leading up to game three of that series because I kept holding him out,” Goodwin said. “He kept begging me to play, and with the situation of that game we ended up putting him in.
“For him to hit that walk-off single, it was so special for all of us who were there and were so close to each other those years. It was one of the coolest moments I have ever been a part of.”
Other notable players were: first baseman Danny Brock (2007-08), who was the Colts’ Most Valuable Player in 2008. He is the son of former University of Wyoming player Danny Brock, who had a standout career for the L.A. Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers; outfielder Tyler Bodenstab, who led the 2014 team with a .423 batting average and 32 runs; and the twin pitchers of Conner and Tyler McDonald (2017), who anchored the rotation with Tyler first on the team with 34 strikeouts and Connor second with 25.
Many players who grew up in Laramie also came back from their colleges to play for the Colts, including second baseman Sean McKinney (2005), who has been an assistant coach at his alma mater of Mesa State University in Grand Junction, Colorado, for the past 10 years; outfielder Josh Warren (2007-09), who was co-MVP and Defensive Player of the Year for the Colts in 2007; catcher/outfielder Jon Sorenson (2011); outfielder Coley Wilson (2011); outfielder Brody Hilgenkamp (2011); infielder Tommy Johnson (2014); utility player Caleb Wilson (2014-15); and pitcher Drew Burman (2015).
The last words
“It’s 24-7 and 12 months out of the year — recruiting the kids, talking with coaches, getting the host families and we had amazing volunteers,” Peterson said. “We were really lucky with the program, probably more than other teams in the league. That was a testament to our community — the host families, sponsors and restaurants — that came together, rallied around us and wanted it as bad as we did.”
Kleppinger added: “It was a good run. Both the Petersons and us, if you tally up all the games played, it was certainly above .500. We had some better years and less than better years. But overall, I think we ran a decent, respectable team that did well. There were also players who snuck into the professional baseball and made the next step up.”