It was a summer to remember for Perham’s Noah Rooney. The junior left handed pitcher made the best out of a tough situation. The 18-year old senior to be went from having his high school season canceled to having one of the best summer’s a high school recruit could have.

It started from a simple email. In November, Starters head coach Neal Kunik emailed Rooney about his winter training regiment and if he wanted to take the next step in his baseball career.

“After doing that, I headed to Shakopee once a week on Sunday’s to train there. It was all pitching specific,” Rooney said. “It was something I felt that helped me develop in a lot of ways that I thought I couldn’t really in Perham due to not having enough equipment. It started as a winter training thing and they asked me to play this summer. With the coronavirus and college coaches not being out, it was something I felt I needed for the next step and to get more exposure.”

Rooney said it was tough to lose the high school baseball season. The Yellowjackets returned several key players from a team that finished fourth in the Class AA Championships in 2019 and were ranked third to start the season. However, that was all erased when the Minnesota State High School League announced the closure of spring sports.

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“I felt we had an opportunity to win a state championship and that is something that Perham has never had the opportunity to do in baseball,” Rooney said. “At the end of the day, I really struggled with. At the end of the day, it is something you must look at and move past. From the day the season got canceled, I thought what am I going to do from now until next season to prepare for that and make up for that season that was lost.”

Rooney went to work with Kunik and the Starter’s program. He spent time throwing every day of the week and worked with a strict program set forth by Kunik and the Starters crew. Rooney said it put him in the best position to be able to throw four to six innings at a time. He said without that program, it would have been tough to get to the spot he is at now.

Rooney and his family have put on the miles this summer. He played in summer tournaments in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Milwaukee, Wis., and Indianapolis, Ind., with the Starters team.

Perham's Noah Rooney gets ready to wind and fire while pitching for the Starters team during the summer of 2020. (Submitted photo)
Perham's Noah Rooney gets ready to wind and fire while pitching for the Starters team during the summer of 2020. (Submitted photo)

Rooney said he didn’t know what to expect during his first tournament at Cedar Rapids. Rooney allowed two runs in four-plus innings. However, it was against a team that had seven future Division I baseball players.

“That just shows the exposure piece, being able to play the best competition,” Rooney said. “Nothing against Section 8AA, but to be the best you have to play the best and to have the opportunity to play against some guys that are going to Vanderbilt, Louisville or Duke, I thought it made a difference in what I had to do to put me in the best position to be successful. I saw how I have to work to get to that peak and that mountain at the top.”

Rooney quickly learned that he had to find secondary pitches when pitching with the Starters group. He developed his secondary pitches and said if you want to take that next step, that’s something you have to do.

“I hope it shows people from Perham that at the end of the day you have the opportunity to play Division I, Division II or Division III baseball, just like everyone from the Twin Cities,” Rooney said. “It might take a little harder of work to get that exposure compared to what they have there, but at the end of the day it is something that is possible and something someone from Perham has already done.”

During a trip to Milwaukee, Rooney started to turn some heads with his pitching performance. Rooney struck out eight of the nine batters he retired, walked one and retired an out via groundout during his three innings of work. While the strikeouts were impressive, he turned some heads when he hit 90 miles per hour on the radar gun for the first time in his career.

“That was my highlight of the summer. The first two games did not go as planned. We played two of the best teams in the nation and they had a lot of studs. That is why you play travel ball, to play those kinds of teams,” Rooney said. “I pitched the third game and we played a team out of Illinois. Out of the bullpen, I was feeling really good and it was one of those days where everything was working. The first inning I had three strikeouts, and this is something you train for. After the game, I looked on Twitter and it had a recap of my start and I saw 90 mph and that is what I hit at the end. That changed the landscape of my recruiting. The next day my phone was blowing up with college coaches. It was a cool opportunity and to see all that work you put in through the winter and having the spring season canceled your junior year, it shows that baseball is a grind and it’s more of a mental game than a physical one.”

Rooney said being able to be mentally tough after working through a tough spring and a pandemic, showed what his performance in Milwaukee meant to him.

Rooney added the recruiting process has been a great one for him. He said a lot of people say it is a stressful experience and he understands why it can be.

Perham's Noah Rooney delivers to the plate during the 2019 Class AA State Tournament in St. Cloud. Rooney didn't get to pitch for the Yellowjackets in 2020 due to the cancellation of the high school season. However, Rooney excelled pitching for Starters out of Minneapolis during the 2020 summer season. (Jason Groth / Perham Focus)
Perham's Noah Rooney delivers to the plate during the 2019 Class AA State Tournament in St. Cloud. Rooney didn't get to pitch for the Yellowjackets in 2020 due to the cancellation of the high school season. However, Rooney excelled pitching for Starters out of Minneapolis during the 2020 summer season. (Jason Groth / Perham Focus)

“Just being able to talk to Division 1 coaches or coaches, in general, is an awesome experience,” Rooney said. “To know that you are wanted to play a sport is pretty exciting and it makes you want to get up and work every single day. That is something I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do.”

Rooney said he hopes to decide in the next month or two on where he plans on playing at the collegiate level. Rooney will continue pitching for the Starters program in the fall with the cancelation of the football season.

“At the end of the day it’s just continuing to have fun with the experience,” Rooney said. “I think that’s what a lot of people miss out on and having those opportunities and taking them for granted. When you look back on life, these are some of the most fun and exciting times of your life, so being able to look back and every single day, kind of taking that step back and say wow, look what I did today and what am I working for tomorrow and the day after that. That is something I am excited about and to continue to be able to get better every single day.”