Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
At 37 years old, former Bison and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks left-handed starting pitcher can still be found on a baseball diamond in the summer. The mortgage broker by day, amateur baseball player and husband by night, still loves the game more than ever before. We tracked down one of the top pitchers in NDSU history to answer the question: Where Are They Now?
Mike Peschel awoke in the warmth of his mid-July hotel room in Winnipeg with a jolt of pain stabbing through his back. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks starting pitcher attempted to get up but couldn’t. He lay there, staring at the ceiling while struggling to roll himself out of bed.
Less than 24 hours before, Peschel was four pitches away from finishing his pregame routine in the bullpen. It was the RedHawks’ first game after the all-star break and he was going to start on the mound against the Winnipeg Goldeyes. His brother Jeremy had just joined the team as a replacement for the series because the RedHawks shortstop’s contract had just been bought out. He drove up with Peschel’s parents so they could watch the two boys play on the same team for the first time since high school. But before Peschel could take to the rubber at Shaw Park, he injured his back and was scratched from the start.
Peschel was past the point of tears from the pain. His frustration threshold had reached its limit. He was to the point of laughter as he lay, unwillingly frozen in his bed. Not even his father who had come to his room to help could do anything. “Don’t touch me,” Peschel said. The pain was so unbearable that any quick movement was out of the question. Ten minutes turned into 20, and then 30 minutes turned into 45. Then finally, the left-hander finally rolled his way onto the cool hotel floor.
The 28-year-old would spend the next 37 days confined to his bed. His stint on the disabled list lasted 43 days before he received a cortisone injection in his back to numb the pain. Upon his return five days later, he threw a complete game.
And just like that, it was another typical summer of professional independent baseball in 2007.
Peschel played for the RedHawks for the better part of six seasons from 2003-08. The left-hander dominated the strike zone with his different variations of curveballs and his mid-80s fastball. He wasn’t out there to blow anyone away. He was your typical lefty craftsman who used all 17 inches of home plate while methodically outpitching you rather than daring you to hit a mid-90s tailing two-seamer. He logged over 440 innings with this quiet, technical approach, making 67 starts, and finished his career with a 36-17 record and 4.33 ERA.
“Your game is going to be about making adjustments. You’re going to be more of a get-the-job-done guy, manage the inning, instead of trying to go out and dominate,” Peschel said about his time in independent ball. “When you’re just out there trying to stay on the team every day, it’s more about doing what’s expected of you, don’t try to do too much.”
Before Peschel became a staple in the RedHawks’ pitching rotation, he was a Bison. He played at NDSU from 1998 to 2003, although, his college career began at University of Mary. He earned a starting spot at first base and was hitting out of the three-hole at the end of the fall season while at Mary. As great as that sounds in theory for an 18-year-old, Peschel wasn’t looking for a few at-bats during games and calling it a day. He wanted the ball and more control. So, he figured his future was on the pitching mound, but the coach told him he couldn’t make that happen until Peschel’s junior or senior year.
“Pitching is what I thought would lead to some sort of future and success,” Peschel said. “There’s nothing like the day when you’re pitching. Your arm feels good and it’s your turn. Every play starts with you. You have the ball. You decide what’s going to happen. The outcome of the game is in your hands.”
Peschel decided to follow his passion for pitching to NDSU in the spring of 1998 where he spent the season as a redshirt. Peschel spent his time hanging around the junior and senior pitchers on the team. He studied how they worked in training during bullpen sessions and how they prepared for upcoming starts. He said this, more than anything, was one of the keys to his growth into becoming a college-level pitcher.
The following spring, Peschel made eight starts and led the Bison in innings pitched. The lefty was just finding his groove and the next season he was named the 2000 North Central Conference Pitcher of the Year.
The 2001 season was a setback for Peschel when he discovered he stretched his UCL. The UCL, or ulnar collateral ligament, is commonly known as the ligament that’s torn when a player has Tommy John surgery. Luckily, Peschel avoided surgery but couldn’t pick up a baseball for nine months.
He returned for his junior season like a man on fire and pitched his finest season as a Bison. Peschel started nine games, completed seven of them, including two shutouts, and finished with a 7-1 record with a minuscule 1.40 ERA. He was again named North Central Conference Pitcher of the Year and awarded the Division II Comeback Player of the Year.
Peschel was born in Alexandria, Minnesota, but was raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, ever since he was 2. His brother, Jeremy, is one year older and played his college ball at Valley City State. The smooth-handed shortstop now manages the Moorhead Brewers, an amateur baseball team he and Peschel play on to this day.
Although Peschel is one of the best pitchers in Bison history, his bat has been making the most noise today. He’s hitting .421 and leads the Brewers in RBIs this season and that’s after three surgeries on his elbow, shoulder and back. He says he doesn’t see the mound quite as often after he finally had surgery on his back he hurt in 2007.
The Brewers have only lost one game this season and are ranked number one in the state of Minnesota.
“We’re probably the oldest team in the state, and I would say for sure the oldest team in the state that’s experiencing success,” the 37-year-old Peschel said. “I’m at first base at 37 years old, Chris Coste plays second base. He’s 43 years old. My brother is 38 years old at shortstop and our third baseman is Derek Dorman and he’s 35, I believe.”
Both Peschels and Coste still have some pop left in their bats, but admit the team leans on its young pitching for its success. They’ve collected players from colleges across North Dakota and feature a healthy dose of former Bison players. Kyle Kingsley, Parker Trewin and even David Ernst threw for the Brewers before signing with an independent team in the new expansion Empire League in the Northeast.
“I have made some great relationships with former teammates and also guys who played for other teams in the conference, and we have gotten to know each other over the years playing amateur baseball,” Peschel said. “The Minnesota State Amateur Tournament is something that every baseball player and coach should make an effort to attend at least once. The atmosphere is spectacular and it is a chance for us older guys to compete in a game that ‘means something’ and still put our costumes on and play the game we all grew up loving and respecting.”
Off the baseball diamond, Peschel has been in the mortgage broker business since 2004. He moved to Minneapolis that year and started working in the city. This gig allowed him to travel with the RedHawks and pursue his childhood passion while building a career in between road trips.
“It allowed me to focus on baseball when I needed to but then not get behind financially, which a lot of minor league players unfortunately do,” Peschel said. “I told myself at a young age that I love baseball and I will give baseball everything I got. If I got a chance to play for a minor league team in an organization, I would 100 percent focus on it, that doesn’t mean I didn’t focus on this because I did. I didn’t want to be 32 with nothing on my resume and no money in my pocket.”
Today, Peschel is in his fourth year with Lexstar Reality in Fargo. He’s working with sales and leasing on the commercial side of real estate. This involves helping a relocating business find a new property or finding open property for potential clients that may be looking to expand or move in the near future.
Lexstar Realty has begun its search for businesses to move to its new strip mall off Veterans and 40th Ave. S. in West Fargo called Veterans Square. The retail/office complex is over 30,000 square feet of retail, 19,000 square feet of office space and also features 51,000 square-foot restaurant pad. Veterans Square will be located across the street from West Fargo Sheyenne High School and is surrounded by single and multi-family housing.
Peschel got married this last November to his wife Brittany in Cancun, Mexico. The couple are expecting their first child this fall on November 12, the exact day of their one-year anniversary.
With an expanding family and more work coming in, Peschel says he’s still going to make time for baseball. He’s spent the last few years at Concordia coaching the pitchers under former Philly and current Brewers teammate Coste. And with the way Peschel has been hitting this year, his brother can’t be eager to fill his role in the lineup with a younger player.
Peschel is far removed from the lifestyle of an independent baseball player. With his back injury and RedHawks career in the rearview, he says he’s still enjoying the game more than ever before and more importantly, is having as much fun with the Brewers as he’s ever had in his life.