Sam Koenig jump photo

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UW-Milwaukee photo

SAUK CITY — Sam Koenig’s love of baseball started early.

When he was 3 years old, he would follow older brothers Lucas and Taylor wherever they went at the ballpark.

“We were always playing,” Lucas Koenig said. “I loved it. Taylor loved it. Sam would always be out there hitting with us.”

Said Taylor Koenig: “He was always one to come to the park. He always stuck his nose where we were.”

It was only natural Sam Koenig would do that, because baseball has long been part of the lives of the Koenigs.

From the time their father, Kurt, was playing and managing in the 1970s to now, when Lucas, 31, is serving as manager and catcher and Taylor, 29, pitches for the Sauk Prairie Twins of the Home Talent League. The Prairie du Sac family remains instrumental in maintaining Sauk City Athletic Field at Jaycee Park.

“I used to go there as long as I remember,” Sam Koenig said. “I remember going to all my brothers’ games and going to the park, playing with my dad, trying to hit with my dad and brothers.”

It was his Field of Dreams.

One of those dreams came true earlier this month, when 23-year-old Sam Koenig was drafted in the 27th round by the Los Angeles Angels after a standout career at UW-Milwaukee. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Koenig — who can play first base, third base, the corner outfield positions and designated hitter — was assigned to Class A Burlington (Iowa) of the Midwest League, where he has spent about a week.

“I guess growing up, you always dream about that,” Koenig said in a telephone interview. “It didn’t become real to me that it could happen until my sophomore year of college. In college, some teammates got drafted, so I made it a goal that this could happen.”

To have his name selected with the 825th pick was a moment Koenig and his family won’t forget.

“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “I was watching the draft round by round. I was getting a little frustrated. But then when it happened, it was an incredible feeling. I can’t even describe it. It made my family extremely happy I was getting this opportunity. It’s a blessing.”

Opportunity earned

That Koenig earned this opportunity wasn’t necessarily a surprise to those who watched his athletic development — including playing sports at Sauk Prairie High School and baseball at UW-Milwaukee and during stints in the HTL and the Northwoods League with Lakeshore, the Madison Mallards and Battle Creek.

“He was that kid in Little League towering over everyone and was stronger than anyone,” said Matt Katzman, 26, a pitcher and first baseman for the Sauk Prairie Twins who played HTL games with Koenig. “I was two years ahead of him in school. His older brothers were the star athletes of Sauk Prairie. But you’d always hear about this younger brother and that he’s going to be the best one of them all.”

There was a reason for that, Taylor Koenig said when comparing the brothers. “He’s the one that actually has muscle,” Taylor said with a laugh.

Sam’s passion for the game was evident.

“He loves baseball like he loves his family,” Sauk Prairie Twins pitcher Paul Lenerz said.

Sam also had a modesty and a down-to-earth quality that impressed Lenerz. Of course, so did Koenig’s playing ability.

“To see him playing out here and how much better he was. The ball just sounded different off his bat,” Lenerz, 35, said before a recent HTL game against Reedsburg. “I thought he had the work ethic, the physical ability and he had the frame. He had everything bundled together.”

Katzman said it was a treat whenever Sam Koenig could play shortstop for them.

“It gave us a spark to have that guy you knew could hit a three-run homer,” Katzman said. “To have an athlete like that come through was special. … Playing again with him would be nice. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

After this season at UW-Milwaukee — his redshirt senior season, after missing one season due to injury — Koenig was named to the third team of the Louisville Slugger All-American team. He received first-team Horizon League honors after hitting .361 with 57 RBIs and 58 runs scored. His 15 homers ranked second in program history and he led the conference in runs scored, hits (83) and homers.

“He had the breakout year he had been waiting for,” Lucas Koenig said.

Sam Koenig, an education major with a 3.86 grade-point average, also was honored as the Academic All-American of the Year for NCAA Division I baseball while being named to the academic first team. He became the first student-athlete in UW-Milwaukee’s 25-year history of NCAA Division I athletics to earn the top academic honor.

“His time management must be extremely impressive, to get everything done,” Taylor Koenig said.

New ballgame

Sam Koenig found his teammates, coaches and manager to be extremely welcoming when he joined Burlington last week. He also found that the pitchers brought the heat.

“It’s going to take a bit of time to adjust,” he said. “The velocity is one thing. Every night they are throwing a lot harder than what you usually see in college.

“It is what I expected. As you level up (in the minors), it’s going to get tougher.”

He started his college career playing third base and played a lot of outfield this past season.

For the Bees, he’s listed as an outfielder, but started off playing first base and designated hitter. He collected his first hit — a double down the left-field line — in his third game on Sunday. It was Father’s Day against host Quad Cities “at the coolest stadium I’ve ever played in,” he said of the park that features a giant Ferris wheel and a view of the Mississippi River.

“It was pretty special,” he said. “It was a little weight off my shoulders. I was happy I could do it on Father’s Day. My parents (Kurt and Pam) were there, so I gave the game ball to my dad.”

After the Bees’ 9-2 victory over Beloit on Thursday night, Koenig was hitting .077 (1-for-13).

“I know in the minors, it’s a process,” he said. “You just have to appreciate what you have and try to be a better baseball player. … I’m giving 100 percent to baseball. I don’t want to be left with any regrets.

“I will do my best and try to get promoted.”

Lucas Koenig has watched his younger brother’s maturation, and appreciates that he remains level-headed.

Taylor Koenig appreciates that Sam still will take time to spend with family, including Taylor’s 3-year-old and 1-year-old sons.

“I’m glad he’s got his chance,” Taylor Koenig said. “We’ll see how far he can go.”

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.