PITTSVILLE, WI (OnFocus) – The Pittsville River Bandits have only been together since 2015 but the baseball tradition in the Pittsville area runs deeper than that.
Justin Rayburn and Sam Schwanebeck started the team in 2015 after having played together on the Marshfield Chaparrals as members of the Dairyland League.
“Sam and I were playing with the Chaparrals so we were kind of thinking, ‘we could probably do a Sunday afternoon league in Pittsville,'” Rayburn said. “Because we had experience being in the league with the Chaparrals, we kind of knew what it took to get sponsorships and funding and we figured out the cost and got an idea on how to run a team in Pittsville.”
The first task at hand: finding enough players to field a team. As Pittsville High School graduates, Schwanebeck and Rayburn had plenty of connections in Pittsville but could they find enough guys to commit to a season from a town of just over 800 people?
Teams with similar-size (or even bigger) player pools like Spirit and Abbotsford have struggled to find enough players in recent years and have called seasons off because of it.
However, the baseball connection within the Pittsville community is strong and Rayburn said when starting the team, they wanted to make sure they kept it home-grown.
“Because we have sponsorships in Pittsville with Pittsville businesses, I do think there’s something to be said to having a little more pride in your team when your guys are from your home town,” Rayburn said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘You guys should go out and get an elite pitcher from a bigger town.’ I’d rather play with our Pittsville guys even if it means we might suffer a few more losses because of it.”
The duo got enough players together from the Pittsville area to commit to a limited, non-conference schedule which included trips to Abbotsford, Marshfield, Whittlesey and others to play teams there. It wasn’t easy as the team had to play lots of away games in its first couple seasons. With teams in the area already fielding a full conference schedule, a non-conference team like the Bandits had to agree to play multiple road games just to secure one home game from those Dairyland League teams.
Once the team gained steam and proved they could be competitive in the Dairyland League, they began the process of joining the league. In 2020, the Bandits played their first season in the Dairyland League.
Now, the Bandits play a normal league schedule while competing with teams in Minocqua, Medford, Wausau, Marshfield and everywhere in-between.
“People are starting to realize that Sundays are the days that the River Bandits play,” Rayburn said. “Once we got into the league that was big because it gave us kind of a home schedule.”
The team is still made up of a majority of Pittsville players and crowds are better than ever. Starting the team wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Justin’s parents, Kim and Dan. They have been essential to getting the field ready for spectators, running the concession stand and helping with coaching.
Check out the Pittsville River Bandits Facebook Page for information on their game schedule and updates throughout the season!
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