August 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Baseball takes center stage for NDSU herdsman
Molden coaches at Little League World Series
Jackson Molden stands with his father, Todd, at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Todd, herdsman of the North Dakota State University dairy herd, helped lead a group of 12 players from Fargo, North Dakota, to the tournament for the state’s first-ever appearance.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — From the crack of the baseball bat to the pulsating of a milking unit, Todd Molden has traversed the world of baseball and that of a dairy farmer.
The two have collided recently for Molden, who is the herdsman of the North Dakota State University Animal Sciences Dairy Cattle Research and Teaching Center in Fargo, North Dakota.
As an assistant coach, Molden helped lead a group of 12 talented youth to appear in the Little League World Series Aug. 16-27 in South Williamsport.
The Fargo 12U All-Stars is the first North Dakota team to reach the pinnacle appearance in the tournament’s seven-decade history.
Players of the Midwest team, of Fargo, North Dakota, process onto the field of Little League Volunteer Stadium Aug. 16 for the opening ceremony of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Midwest lost to Southwest and Mountain in the double-elimination tournament.
Molden and his wife Tania’s oldest son, Jackson, is the catcher on the team. Siblings Amelia and Christian have been cheering on the team during their journey to Little League headquarters.
Molden, who oversees the 100-cow dairy farm at NDSU in addition to student employees, has been juggling the three roles of coach, father and herdsman throughout the season.
When it came time for the league’s state tournament in July, Fargo 12U All-Stars was the lone team that entered.
“Little League is not super huge in North Dakota, although I have a feeling it’s going to get a lot bigger now, but it’s not huge by any stretch,” Molden said. “Usually, there’s only about three teams in the state tournament.”
The squad then departed Aug. 2 to travel to the eight-team Midwest Region Tournament Aug. 4-11 in Whitestone, Indiana.
After defeating Kansas 15-1 Aug. 4 in the quarterfinals, Fargo 12U All-Stars faced Wisconsin Aug. 5 and won 16-2. A loss to South Dakota followed Aug. 9 by a score of 7-3. The team was not deterred and came back to win the next day over Iowa 12-7.
The win set up a championship game of neighboring states Aug. 11. In the end, North Dakota was the victor 9-7 to secure their spot in the world series.
Players of the Midwest team of Fargo, North Dakota, wait in the dugout Aug. 18 during their opening game against Southwest in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. One of the team’s coaches, Todd Molden, grew up on a dairy farm near Appleton, Minnesota.
“The last play was a ground out to our shortstop, and he made a nice play,” Molden said. “It was so much fun to watch the celebration, knowing how hard these kids worked. They do anything we ask them to, and it’s just so fun to see that emotion in them come out.”
With no time to relax, and with a flood of local support behind them, the team and their three coaches set off on a bus at 7 a.m. the next day.
“There was no time,” Molden said. “Basically, as soon as we won it, we had a meeting with the parents to explain what was about to happen. And then from there, they put you on a bus.”
Upon arriving at Little League headquarters, the team has navigated once-in-a-lifetime experiences, with media requests, events and opportunities tailored to the 20 national and international teams in attendance. A parade was held for all the teams through the streets of Williamsport. Molden said thousands of spectators were in attendance.
“It’s pretty amazing what they do for these kids,” Molden said. “They treat them like rock stars.”
Fargo 12U All-Stars, referred to as Midwest in the world series, drew a bye for the opening round Aug. 16 and fell to Southwest 6-2 Aug. 18 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.
The double-elimination tournament bracket set up a Midwest-Mountain game Aug. 20. Ultimately, Midwest exited the world series when the game ended 7-1.
“When it became clear we wouldn’t win, I was still just so proud of them and all that they accomplished,” Molden said. “Nobody will ever be able to take away those accomplishments from them. I am sad that we are done with this group, but I hope many of them continue to play together, because this is a special group of players.”
Molden grew up on a dairy farm near Appleton, Minnesota, and, from a young age, learned and excelled at the sport of baseball. Molden traded a player’s jersey for a coaching spot in the dugout of an American Legion team while he was still attending Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota.
When Molden moved to Fargo, North Dakota, and his oldest son began with Fargo Youth Baseball, Molden once again assumed a coaching role.
With so many memories wrapped in a baseball glove, Molden was quick to admit this latest experience will forever be at the forefront.
“The moment it hit me was when we came up from underneath Lamade Stadium onto the infield and you walk up the steps and you see it,” Molden said. “If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve watched the games, and now you get to see firsthand. You’re right on the field where all these games have been played all these years. It was pretty special.”
The significance of this milestone may be muddled by the excitement for the 12 players, but this time will be etched in their memories for years to come. From Molden’s perspective as a father and a coach, he is proud of not only his son but the 11 young men on the team.
“To be able to be there with Jackson is incredible,” Molden said. “I know how hard he works at it and how much he wanted this. But you know, I’ve spent so much time with all these boys, you almost feel like you have 12 sons out there. It’s really fun to be able to be a part of that.”
While Molden has been occupied with all things baseball, the academic year at NDSU has begun. Molden said he is grateful for his assistant herdsman, Bob Brown.
“He’s great with the students, and he works his tail off,” Molden said. “He loves the cows, and luckily, Bob is a sports fan too and knows how important family is.”
Molden said he sees similarities in the values instilled on a dairy farm and those learned on the diamond.
“As anyone who has dairy farmed knows, you have to work hard, and you are going to get out of it what you put into it,” Molden said. “These kids have bought into that mentality. Dairy farmers will do anything for their cattle and for their family as they’re trying to handle the day-to-day stuff on a dairy farm. These kids work super hard and play hard for each other, and they know that they have to put in a lot of work, and they do that. They’ve been rewarded with success because they work so hard.”