RedHawks honor late former pitcher Jake Laber at Newman
FARGO -- Deb and Ken Laber arrived about an hour before game time Saturday at Newman Outdoor Field and there were people lined up to get their son's No. 19 jersey.
"It's overwhelming, but we're very honored," Deb said.
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks paid tribute to former pitcher Jake Laber, who died a year ago due to natural causes. He was 30 years old. Ken threw out a ceremonial first pitch on Jake Laber jersey giveaway night, receiving a loud round of applause from the crowd.
"It means a lot. It's a big day," Ken said. "It's very neat that the RedHawks want to do this. At the same time, it's very hard."
The Gary SouthShore RailCats scored nine runs in the eighth inning and added three more in the ninth to rally for a 12-5 victory against the RedHawks in American Association baseball before 3,943 fans.
The RedHawks (41-35) have lost three consecutive games. The RailCats scored nine runs in the eighth inning on seven hits, while taking advantage of three F-M errors. Relief pitchers Anthony Pacillo and Richie Tate couldn't keep the RailCats in check after RedHawks starter Jose Almarante pitched seven scoreless innings.
"Everybody has got to participate," RedHawks manager Doug Simunic said. "People got to do the job. ... We couldn't get two guys to pitch the eighth inning."
RedHawks coach Kole Zimmerman was the catcher for Ken's ceremonial first pitch. Zimmerman was teammates with Jake both at North Dakota State and with the RedHawks. After he caught the pitch, Zimmerman walked out toward the mound to hug Ken, Deb and Karisa Gullickson, Jake's fiance.
"It's a good thing to have Ken and Deb out here," Zimmerman said. "It's always nice to see them, but it's tough."
Simunic added: "It's still fresh in our minds. He was just a good guy lost way too early."
Deb and Ken said they had attended some RedHawks games this summer prior to Saturday.
"It's hard to come here because Jake's presence is here," Deb said.
Jake retired from pro baseball in 2014 after a seven-year career. He spent six of those seasons with the RedHawks, earning a franchise record 46 wins. Prior to his pro career, Jake was a standout pitcher for North Dakota State, which also plays its home games at Newman.
Tim Jallen, the head groundskeeper for the RedHawks, pulled the Labers and Gullickson aside underneath the stadium soon after Ken's ceremonial first pitch.
Jallen showed them an old pitching rubber from Newman that Jake pitched off at both NDSU and for the RedHawks.
"They are going to give that to us," Ken said.
"We wish this wouldn't be ... but this is what we have and we're just so honored that everybody is here to support us," Deb added. "We've felt that support through this last year."
Earlier this summer, Fargo Post 2 American Legion baseball retired Jake Laber's No. 19 and also named the bullpen at Jack Williams Stadium after him. Earlier this year, Laber was also inducted into the Post 2 Hall of Fame.
"It's wonderful that they haven't forgotten Jake," Deb said.