116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Isaac and Lincoln Stensland attended their first baseball game at just 6 weeks old.
The twin brothers made one of many trips with mom to watch teams coached by their dad, Ryan. They grew up around the diamond, shadowing dad and the older players. The pair inheriting Ryan’s love of the game seemed unavoidable. It was.
“We lovingly call them ballpark rats because they have been at the park since they were little,” said Abbe Stensland, Isaac and Lincoln’s mom and Ryan’s wife. “Ryan has been coaching since before they were born. I knew baseball would be a huge part of our lives.
“Fortunately, the boys have embraced and fallen in love with it as much as their dad.”
Ryan will make his fifth state baseball tournament appearance Monday, leading sixth-seeded Alburnett to the Class 1A quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons, while Isaac and Lincoln will attend as freshman reserves for No. 7-seed Lisbon at Merchants Park in Carroll.
“It’s pretty cool,” Isaac said. “I get to share it with everybody.”
Twenty-five percent of the teams and half of the first-round games will have a Stensland connection.
“It’s a pretty awesome thing to get to see your own kids get to experience the state tournament,” Ryan said. “There are a lot of kids and coaches who never do. We’re fortunate, as a family, to get to do that together in one year.”
The family lives in Lisbon, but Ryan is in his fifth season as Alburnett head coach. They chose not to open enroll to be in the same program.
Both teams clinched berths on the same night. Alburnett scored the final 12 runs in a 12-2 victory over North Mahaska. Lisbon avenged an early-season loss to Maquoketa Valley with a 9-2 triumph. During his substate final, Ryan wore a Lisbon baseball shirt under his Alburnett garb.
“I wear that more often than people would believe,” Ryan said. “It’s actually one of my favorite shirts to wear.
“I’m very proud of those guys for being part of the team. It’s interesting because they played with some of those kids from Alburnett when they played travel ball. They’re going to see some of their former teammates there. They get a chance to be a part of a state tournament team as freshmen is cool to see as a dad and a coach.”
Father and sons have bonded over baseball. According to Abbe, if they aren’t playing then they are watching baseball. When viewing isn’t an option, the discussion revolves around baseball. The 14-year-olds will ask for their at-bats to be recorded so they can break it down with dad.
“My dad has taught me everything I know about playing baseball,” Lincoln said. “I like playing baseball with my brother (and) with my dad.”
Abbe and younger sisters, A.J. and Ella, also get in on the action. Ella claims to be the best of the Stensland bunch, but Lincoln disagrees.
“Our whole family plays baseball and softball,” Lincoln said. “It’s something we all get to do together.”
Ryan was a longtime coach at Lisbon and still lives near the town. He led the Lions to the state tournament in 2004, 2007 and 2012. Ryan coached the Pirates to a state runner-up finish in 2019.
Even though this is the first trip as players for Isaac and Lincoln, they have been here previously.
Each has a memory of past tournaments.
In 2019, they witnessed Alburnett and North Linn make the finals in 1A and 2A, respectively.
“It was cool,” Isaac said. “That was really fun.”
Lincoln recalled the drive to state and the post-tournament activities.
“We rode the bus with the team,” Lincoln said. “We got to watch them practice and all their games. We went to a pig show after.”
Alburnett and Lisbon are part of the Tri-Rivers Conference. The two teams have a similar schedule. If it is a junior varsity and varsity doubleheader, Abbe will text occasional updates. Ryan estimated he made three or four games this season.
The two teams will take the field right after each other Monday night. Lisbon faces second-seeded Council Bluffs St. Albert. Alburnett opens with No. 3-seed Tri-Center. Ryan will balance a dual role. Coach will prepare his team and scout. Dad will watch his sons’ team try to advance.
“I’ll do a little of both,” Ryan said. “We’re going to get our guys ready to play a talented Tri-Center team. At the same time, I’m going to catch some of the Lisbon-St. Albert game.”
Alburnett has a mix of veteran leaders and young talent. Some of the seniors were contributors on the state finalist team. Hunter Caves, Reed Stallman and Shane Neighbor have helped the Pirates return to state.
“Definitely not an easy situation sometimes but I couldn’t have a better group of guys at Alburnett, who I have had the privilege to be around over the past five years,” Stensland said. “It’s pretty cool to get to be along for the ride in their success and am very proud of the work and commitment of the guys on our team at Alburnett.
“I tell my two boys the same thing as I tell the guys at Alburnett — win, lose or draw, I am proud of them every day for who they have become and for who they strive to be.”
Lisbon’s roster doesn’t include a single senior and just two juniors. The Lions have a young, talented squad that has won seven straight and nine of the last 10, setting up a possible run and a bright future.
Abbe has a Lisbon shirt ready for the 5 p.m. game and an Alburnett shirt ready for the 7:30 contest. If both win, she will have a dilemma with the teams playing each other.
“Everybody is hoping their team can do the best they possibly can,” Isaac said. “If that happens, we want to go all the way.”
Dad quipped with a laugh, “I hope we have something to say about that.”