Ahead in the count: Inside Skyline Baseball’s connection to Duluth, MN


Steven Rissotto

Michael Sarhatt, Marcus Pointer and Jesse Pierce have all played major roles in recent seasons with the Duluth Huskies in Minnesota.

Michael Sarhatt was taking control in the kitchen, frying greasy bacon via a gas stovetop on most mornings before leaving his dorm to gear up for the ballpark.

The weather in Duluth, Minnesota is mercurial; working in different cycles that resembled a pure coin flip. One day it was freezing with light showers, the next it was filled with 85-degree heat with horrid humidity. It’s typical for the Northwest portion of the state — especially up near the Canadian border — but still an unexpected blast for anyone not used to it.

Digesting the bacon was a small, yet memorable highlight during a summer that Sarhatt would later refer to as the best experience of his life.

At 19-years-old in 2021, Sarhatt made the move to Duluth to play for the Huskies in the Northwoods League, one of the top collegiate baseball summer leagues in the country. Born and raised in the Bay Area, it’s the furthest he’s been away from home.

A graduate of Serra High School in San Mateo, Sarhatt ended up playing baseball at Skyline College due to the lack of opportunities at four-year schools. To say he wasn’t thrilled to attend a junior college was an understatement.

“Growing up, I had a pretty anti-JUCO mindset,” Sarhatt said. “I was like ‘Why would I go there if I could go to a four-year (institution)?’ I didn’t want to go to community college. That was my opinion on it all. I’m kind of glad COVID hit because I was just like, ‘Screw it. I’m not gonna wait around, I’m just gonna go to JUCO and get as good as I can get and see what I can get in two years.’”

After opting out of the 2021 season at Skyline to avoid losing a year of eligibility, Sarhatt — a dual-threat on the mound and as a first baseman — worked on the side and gained the attention of his pitching coach, Marcus Pointer. The connection between the two ended up becoming crucial, as Pointer was also about to begin his third year as head coach of the Duluth Huskies.

Pointer, a baseball lifer in his own right, is another fellow Serra High School alumni and was a former All-American right-handed pitcher at Skyline. He first started coaching summer baseball in 2015 and bounced around before being named the Huskies’ head coach in 2019 to accompany his spring position on Skyline’s staff. As a result of his double-dipping, Pointer is always on the lookout for the chance to bring his guys to Duluth once the junior college concludes. Sarhatt found that out once Pointer invited him over for the 2021 season.

“I’ve always tried to — if I have a guy that fits talent-wise and mindset-wise — bring one of my own guys to every place that I go to each summer and Mike was kind of our guy last year,” Pointer said. “I know what kind of development it has on a kid just physically and mentally so I like to provide that opportunity for each one of our guys each summer.”

Often mistaken as a basketball player for his frame of 6 feet, 6 inches stature and weight of 225 pounds, Sarhatt never started pitching regularly until he came to Skyline. At the same time, he was starting at first base and showing off a strong opposite-field approach with power from gap to gap. Despite the offensive pedigree, Pointer was interested to see how he fared against better-quality college hitters.

Once he arrived in Duluth, Sahratt found himself surrounded by men amongst boys and was forced to adjust quickly to a different lifestyle that he would temporarily leave behind nearly 1,700 miles away. Part of the journey would involve meeting a lot of new teammates with different levels of experience from all over the United States.

Enter, Jesse Pierce.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Pierce grew up hearing constantly about the baseball royalty in his area. Future all-stars Joey Gallo, Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper are just a few names who started their youth career around Sin City. Hoping to be the next prodigy out of the group, Pierce’s career began in T-Ball, a league his mother helped coach in.

“You had to be five years old to play and my mom lied about my age,” Pierce said, laughing. “So I started playing baseball because I just had such an immense passion for it at a young age. She said I was two years older so I got to play T-Ball ever since I was three or four years old and then from then on, it just kind of snowballed.”

The snowball effect landed him all over the country to play baseball. After short stops at the University of Arkansas and Grayson College in Texas, Duluth happened to be next on his nomadic list of locations to play baseball.

“There’s a lot of players coming in and out with injuries and new opportunities,” Sarhatt said. “And Jesse came out about the end of June if I remember correctly, and he’s just the coolest dude and really easy to hang out with.”

The Huskies play at Wade Stadium, an arena directly off the shores of Lake Superior with historical roots dating back to the 1940s. Similar to a professional baseball organization, the expectation to succeed makes up a portion of the atmosphere. There are pressures like maintaining attendance, generating enough revenue with ticket sales and the aspect of winning in general.

“I enjoy the player development side so that’s always going to be involved in whatever kind of team I’m coaching,” Pointer said. “I’m always there to kind of develop guys that are willing to try things in games that might necessarily not be 100% to win it. But as the guys get more productive, it can help them in the long run.”

Pointer estimates that roughly 50 to 75 players are drafted or signed out of the league by Major League Baseball teams. In many ways, the workload draws similarities to minor league baseball because of the constant games that are played without breaks — approximately 72 games in 76 days with 36 road games. To combat the long and grueling bus rides, there was a heavy emphasis on the importance of staying in shape.

“I definitely learned the value of keeping your body in shape and not eating crap and all that, but like there’s a lot of daily maintenance that needs to go on when you really don’t want to do it,” Sarhatt said. “If you’re on like an eight-day road trip and you’re in the middle of Iowa, then you’d much rather just take that nap before the game.”

Even the housing situation had a minor league flair to it. The pitchers lived in the dorms while the position players stayed with host families. Pierce’s host family, folks he ended up growing rather close to, would attend the games and loudly chant encouragements to their “host son.” Halfway through the summer, Pierce realized he nor his teammates didn’t have a car to make the 20-minute trip to the field every day so they ended up moving to the dorms at nearby College of St. Scholastica.

The summer concluded and the Duluth Huskies finished in second place in the Great Plains Eastern Division with a record of 30-38. Pierce cranked two homers and knocked in 16 runs, while Sarhatt was excellent in 23 innings out of the bullpen, recording a 3.13 earned run average.

The summer concluded and the calendar eventually flipped to January: Pierce, established enough to be considered very well-traveled, dialed Pointer’s number and wanted to discuss business.

“I was kind of looking for a new school and I didn’t really know where to go,” Pierce said. “I really didn’t have too many options and I had a really good relationship with Marcus (Pointer). And so I just gave him a call and I was like, ‘Hey, would you guys potentially need an outfield or infield guy to come in?’”

Pointer was ecstatic and brought Pierce out for a visit to Skyline’s campus, a tour that Sarhatt helped orchestrate. Months later, the Las Vegas native finished the regular season leading the club in almost every offensive category while Sarhatt was a consistent force at the plate and Pointer thrived working with his pitchers.

Sarhatt has a year remaining of eligibility and is looking to receive an offer from a four-year college. He will return to Duluth for the second-straight season to play for the Huskies, unwrap the bacon and switch on the fryer.

“This opportunity in Duluth to play with those caliber players and feel like I belong was huge for me as a baseball player,” Sarhatt said. “Because I feel like I’m comfortable in any baseball field with any opponent now.”

Pierce has a few offers on the table from four-year schools. Returning to Skyline is an option and he’s also talked to professional scouts about possibly getting drafted to a big-league club or signed as an undrafted free agent.

“Duluth is such a great town,” Pierce said. “It’s a really small town, but they love their baseball. Every night the stands will be filled with people and supporters. So it was really fun. It was a really good experience.”