by Hannah Haegele
The metallic ding of a baseball bat rings through the new baseball stadium at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. The iconic popping noise a baseball makes when it makes contact with a leather baseball mitt is a welcomed sound to fans of the Eagle baseball team. The 2015 season has officially begun, and UNW currently holds a record of 6-7.
The season kicked off in the warmth of the Florida sun. The Eagles made the spring break trip to Florida to play 10 games against teams from all across the nation. Overall, the Eagles went 5-5 in their spring break games, including two 7-6 victories against Elizabethtown College and Westminster College and a dominant 15-1 win over Hilbert College.
“Florida weather was awesome and getting to hang out with teammates 24/7 is something I always look forward to,” said Eagle outfielder Braxton Lindow. One of the biggest upsides of a trip to Florida is getting quality team bonding time that can carry-over to the grind of the regular season conference play.
Once the Eagles returned home, they had another exciting opportunity to look forward to. The home-opener against Saint Mary’s University would be the first official home game to be played on the new fields at UNW. The Eagles lost both games to Saint Mary’s, 1-4 and 5-10, but the excitement of playing in a different atmosphere was a win for the Eagles.
“Playing on the new field is incredible. We are so blessed to have it, and we look forward to playing more games in front of more fans this year because we are able to play in more weather situations,” said sophomore Ryan Sutterer. Lindow added, “It’s awesome being able to have a top-notch new facility with a surface that allows us to be outside earlier than any other teams in Minnesota.”
While there are obvious advantages to having new, state-of-the-art fields, playing on a larger field required returning players to adjust to the dimensions of the field. Senior Taylor McMurray explained, “There is a lot more room to cover in the outfield and doubles at the old field are now triples on the new ball field.”
So far this season the Eagles have had decent success on offense, with a team batting average of .279, which is second-best in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference only to St. Scholastica who is batting .312. Tyler Osborn is leading the team with a .467 batting average and 9 extra base hits. Lindow has added a team-high 12 runs-batted-in to go along with some exceptional base running, as he leads everyone in the UMAC with 7 stolen bases. Erik Nyquist has been consistent on the pitching mound for the Eagles. Nyquist is 3-0 this season, and Adam Johnson is 1-0 with a team-best 1.29 earned-run-average.
In the season, the Eagles will get into the heart of their conference games beginning in April. The game schedule can be found online.
“I am most looking forward to the conference championship game because we know this is the year we take it,” said Sutterer. McMurray also believes this could be the year UNW brings home the UMAC title. “[The] team goal is to win the conference. It hasn’t happened in a while. This team can do it,” McMurray said.
Both Lindow and McMurray are hoping to provide leadership this season, specifically leading by example on the field. Lindow said, “I decided not to make any personal goals this season other than do what I need to do in order to help the team win each day.” McMurray said, “Being it’s my last year of collegiate baseball, my personal goals are to help the team in any way possible and to be the best leader I can be.”
While being a leader is a large role to fill on any team, having good comradery with teammates makes things a lot easier. One of the foundational pieces of this UNW team is creating a family-like atmosphere that allows the players to not only be teammates, but extremely close friends.
“The baseball team is a little different because we do have that family atmosphere. As soon as the freshman walk in they are a part of the family and we really try to implement that mindset. I believe that if you ask the freshman or anyone on the team, if they feel as if they are a part of a family they would say yes. That’s what I hope,” said McMurray.
“The best part about playing baseball at UNW is being with the guys. These are the guys you’ll have by your side on your wedding day and for the rest of your life. The guys are the reason that I show up and work hard every day. Baseball wouldn’t be the game it is without the team and their friendships,” McMurray said.
While baseball is an ultimate team sport, some of the players decide take part in their own personal pre-game superstitions to help them individually have a good game.
“A typical baseball superstition is to not let anybody on the team touch the foul line, but one of the first things I like to do when I get to the field is to step right on the line in the outfield and scratch it up a little bit. Obviously I can’t do this on the turf, but I like to do it to squash out any possible ideas of superstition,” said Lindow
Sutterer said, “I like to pray in center field by myself before games. I also love to keep things loose before the game and our team is great at doing that because of all the characters we have.”
Superstitions aside, the Eagles have a firm and absolute approach to every single game they play, and that is to be a witness for Jesus Christ. They are reminded by their head coach, Dave Hieb, that they might be the only Bible some people ever read, and that gives them a focus that helps them have a gracious and praiseful attitude in victory and defeat.
“Jesus Christ is at the center of all that we do, and if we are playing for someone or something else we are missing the point. Our team’s acronym is FOCUS, which stands for Faith, Obedience, Compassion, Unity and Service, and we keep each other accountable in order to live up to that and represent Christ at all times,” said Lindow.
McMurray said, “In the past, including last year, I didn’t portray Christ to the best of my ability. I really let my emotions get the best of me. Christ has really moved in my life recently and that has had a huge impact on the way I play the game. The team has also had a huge impact on me personally. A lot of guys have helped me along in my faith and I would have been lost without them.” He added, “The team verse this year is 1st Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, Godliness has value over all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.””
“Baseball is a game of failure no matter how good you are. It is hard to always be positive and look like you are really playing for Him. Playing at UNW has made it so much easier to cope with failure because I’ve learned that it’s not all about how you perform statistically, it’s about how you represent Christ while playing so that other teams can see that we are different,” said Sutterer