LeJetz pitcher Sam Nascak boasts an 82-mph fastpitch, and his talent on the team recalls his famed great-grandfather Emil Nascak’s storied history with the sport in Winona and across the country.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
LeJetz pitcher Sam Nascak’s fastball has more than just a speed of 82 mph — it also has generations of baseball players behind it, tracing back as far the 1941 Red Sox.
Sam is the 16-year-old great-grandson of Winona-area baseball legend Emil Nascak, who spent years in the local baseball scene before retiring and opening up a men’s store in 1961. While Sam never knew Emil very well, as he passed away in 2010, he was used to hearing about his exploits.
“I was really young, but I knew about him. My grandparents and my dad used to tell stories about him,” Sam said.
Sam grew up in Winona, and was introduced to baseball when he was very young. According to Sam, his grandparents and father were instrumental in hooking him onto the sport.
“My grandparents and my dad introduced me to baseball. My grandparents would throw me little plastic balls in my backyard, and I’d hit for hours on end, and I used to go to the field with my dad every Friday to play for three or four hours.” he recalled.
What started as a hobby quickly became a passion, when he started his career playing T-ball through the Winona Park and Recreation Department when he was four or five. When he was 10, he started pitching, which is what he is known for today. From there, he continued to play baseball through elementary and middle school, eventually playing for the Winona Buddies and then the LeJetz.
“It’s not just pitching. I like it all as a whole; hitting, fielding, not one thing over anything else. I just love the game,” Sam explained.
That passion for the game might come from his great-grandfather, who has a storied past in the sport. According to an article in the Winona Republican-Herald from March 22, 1950, Emil grew up in Carteret, N.J. He started out his baseball career in 1941 when he was signed by the Boston Red Sox after making the New Jersey all-state high school nine.
He was first assigned to Centreville, Md., before transferring to the Canadian-American (CA) league after two games. During his time in the CA league, Emil set the league fielding record of .970 at third base.
In 1942, Emil enlisted in the Navy and played the game on Guadalcanal, where he was voted the most outstanding player of that year.
After his service, he made the rounds in the league, signing to the Cleveland Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs before making his way to Winona and playing for the Chiefs in 1950.
On the Chiefs, Emil played shortstop, which was at the time one of the teams weaker positions. He was known as “Little Tiger,” and became one of the few local legends of the Chiefs’ history and led some the the Chiefs’ best years.
“I remember he was a shorter guy, and that didn’t hold him back from being a good player,” Sam recalled. Emil was 5’2” tall, which compared to Sam’s height of 6’3” is on the shorter side.
Eventually, Emil would go on to coach the Winona Chiefs for several years, until resigning after a losing streak in 1959. He would go on to open up a local “Emil’s Menswear,” and switch out the baseball bat for a bowling ball.
When Emil started playing for the Chiefs, he was 28 years old. In comparison, Sam is still young, but LeJetz coach Gary Hoeppner sees potential in his performance.
“He’s done a really good job pitching, basically being our number two for most of the summer,” he said. “[He’s] really impressive pitching wise.”
Hoeppner continued to say that he easily sees Sam playing in a Division 2 or 3 team, and while he still needs to work on his offense and defense, he has a great arm.
“If he’s going to get signed to a team, it’ll be for his pitching,” Hoeppner said.
Sam has been playing for the LeJetz since the beginning of the year, and the season is just starting to wind up with the final sets of games coming up in the next few weeks. The season has been good, he said, and while he couldn’t recall any specific moments, Sam spoke highly of the team as a whole.
“[Playing for the LeJetz] been a really good time. It’s more of a family than a team. Everyone is really close, and we all get along really well,” Sam explained. “We’ve made a lot of progress since the beginning of the season.”
While he is considered a leader on the team, Hoeppner said Sam is a quiet player, and leads more by example than words. Sam’s response echoed that statement, as he humbly pointed to helping the team as the highlight.
“I enjoy it, knowing that you’re on the field helping the team contribute,” Sam said.
Emil passed away on July 21, 2010, when Sam was only eight years old, but he continues to follow in his great-grandfather’s footsteps. After high school, Sam is hoping to keep his career going past the local teams and into the collegiate space.
“I hope to play baseball at the next level in college,” he said, adding that he would like to stay in the area to stay close to his friends and family.
What about following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, and becoming a coach?
“There’s a possibility, yeah. I really enjoy being around the game,” he said.