TJ Nereng selected Wisconsin’s player of the year

Written by Bob on May 4th, 2017

2016 NAFA WOPLD SERIES, A Division All-World selections from Animal House of La Crosse are, from left, Brian Leonhard, Ethan Ringlien and TJ Nereng. The three award winners helped Animal House finish third in the A Division with a 7-2 record. After losing its opener, Animal House won seven games straight before falling in the losers bracket final. Courtesy Photo.

“T.J. could have jumped ship and played with stronger teams, but chose to stay and help us grow.” – Animal House Manger Bud Olson

LA CROSSE, Wisc. – To make Bud Olson’s ball club takes more than just talent. His measuring stick extends yards beyond just physical skills into what lies within the heart, soul and mind of any player wishing to wear the Animal House uniform.

Mention the name T.J. Nearing and a smile spreads across Olson’s face. He has known T.J. – now in his 30s – since he was a youngster. He watched him evolve into a good athlete in football, basketball and finally fastpitch softball.

“T.J. is the totally consulate unselfish player,” said Olson. “He is willing to play where we have our greatest need. We value character, too, because it plays a huge role in the overall success of any team.”

Success? Well, that pretty much defines Nereng’s 2016 Wisconsin North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) fastpitch season.

He played a huge role in leading Animal House to a successful campaign in state and on the national level. At the NAFA World Series in Mankato, Minnesota, Nereng helped Animal House finish third in the A Division. For his contributions, Nereng was selected an All-World player.

So when time came for the Wisconsin NAFA committee to select its Player of The Year, Nereng was awarded the honor. (See past award winners below.)

And that pleases Olson to no end.

“Our teams have been playing NAFA ball since the mid-1990’s,” Olson said, who selected NAFA’s Manager of The Year. “We had players nominated in the past, but no one selected. Obviously I’m pleased and very proud that this recognition has gone to an all-around team player. He could have jumped ship and played with stronger teams, but chose to stay and help us grow.”

Nearing followed his dad Ken Nereng, who played with Olson on their national championship team in 1989, into the sport. Since his dad was a pitcher, probability had it that T.J. would eventually end up in the circle as well.

“We knew he would be pitching for us in time,” Olson said. “His dad was a pitcher and spent a great amount of time teaching (T.J.) fastpitch skills.”

And T.J.’s skills are commendable – with his bat and his arm.

Through the 2016 season, he has fashioned a 139-65 career pitching record for Animal House, along with a career .361 batting average.

And in the Wisconsin state tournament and NAFA World Series, he showed his pedigree with a 3-1 record, 1.60 ERA, along with a .431 average and .500 on base percentage.

A physical therapist, Nereng was pulled away from fastpitch for an internship with the Milwaukee Brewers for two years.

“His absence was noticed,” Olson said, adding that Nereng pitches for Animal House in league and tournament play.

Nerang’s reaction to his selection for player of the year? Just what you would expect from a player with talent and character:

“The award could have gone to several members of our team,” he said through Olson.

But for Olson, “the choice was well made.”

    Veterans Power Animal House to Masters Championships

When it comes to veterans making an impact in the clutch, Olson knows he can count on Paul Bruha and Kent Stelter. Both turn 58 this summer. But age doesn’t appear to affect their performance.

Bruha carries a lifetime .365 batting average, while Stelter’s swats are nearly even at .323.

“Paul is one of the best second basemen around,” Olson said, “and Kent is a horse behind the plate (and) can go to a corner spot if needed. Both have received most valuable player awards along with several all-tournament selections.”

Olson says the duo are the heart of his masters team that began in 2001, and have since fashioned an impressive 87-42 record.

“They hit in the three and four spots in our batting order,” Olson said, “and have helped our teams win four championships and a similar number of runner-ups.”

It costs money to support a men’s fastpitch team. Olson relies on fundraising to help fill the kitty, and he can rely on Bruha and Stelter to help pull the wagon.

“These two players rank the top-two in our fundraisers to enable our team to stay in the game,” he said. “They are truly Hall Of Fame ballplayers and people.”

PAST WISCONSIN NAFA AWARD WINNERS

  • Wisconsin NAFA Player of the Year, Pitcher of The Year, Manager of The Year
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