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McBreen, Jimenez fitting in with Worthington team

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WORTHINGTON -- Octavio Jimenez and Kirk McBreen didn't know what to expect.

As "outsiders" new to Worthington's VFW baseball team, the Okabena residents braced for the worst before joining their new team on the diamond this summer.

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Coming in, Jimenez and McBreen knew some of their new teammates only as opponents. They faced Worthington as teammates on Southwestern United High School's team in the spring and on Heron Lake's VFW team last summer but didn't know their rivals personally.

"My first thought was that they'd talk trash and I wouldn't make any friends," Jimenez said. "I'd tell Kirk, 'I guess we'll have our own spot at the end of the dugout.'"

There also was the fear of backlash from parents and fans, but Jimenez and McBreen each said the risk and uncertainty was worth it for one reason: The love of the game.

Heron Lake didn't have enough players to field a team this summer, meaning Jimenez and McBreen wouldn't be able to play VFW baseball for the squad they starred on last year.

They made Okabena's American Legion baseball team, but it wasn't enough. Together, they decided to attend open tryouts for Worthington's VFW team.

"At first, I wasn't sure. I didn't really know anybody over here, so I didn't know what to do," McBreen said. "Then I decided, 'OK, let's go play.' It ended up being a good decision."

Jimenez and McBreen both made the team, and their worries quickly subsided for the same reason they decided to try out in the first place.

"At first, I think everybody wasn't sure how to react," Worthington coach Ryan Weber said. "But our 16-year-old kids, Steven Kremer, Mitchell Jensen, Stuart Rogers, Cody Melendrez and all those guys took them on and accepted them. When a player knows we're taking on talented kids who are going to make our team better, they're going to be excited."

Not that it wasn't a little awkward at first.

"Obviously, you're going to be a little shy right away, but they blended in pretty well," Kremer said. "We knew them from varsity baseball before, so we knew who they were and everything. We had a (VFW) practice together, and the next day we had a (high school) game against each other. There was a little friendly smack talk, but it was fun."

By the end of their first week together, the awkwardness wore off. Jimenez's new teammates even started referring to him by his nickname, 'Chippy,' which only McBreen called him at the start.

"There wasn't much talking right away, but then everyone got used to each other," McBreen said. "I just came here, saw what everyone was like, got along with everybody, and it ended up working out pretty well."

The chemistry on the field came even quicker.

The new additions became starters in the middle infield. McBreen took shortstop, and Jimenez took second base.

In his first at-bat with Worthington, at a tournament in Sioux Falls, Jimenez crushed a two-run home run - the lone homer of the season for Worthington -- and was congratulated enthusiastically by his new teammates.

"That was a good spark for the team, for them to come in and produce right away," Kremer said. "After having that happen, you know the other guys are going to get even better."

Still, Weber knew what kind of talent he was getting before Jimenez and McBreen even put on Worthington uniforms.

"Last year, we went over to Okabena and they stuck it to us," Weber said. "Chippy was the lead-off hitter, and Kirk batted second, and we couldn't get them out over there.

"I think the teammates realized beforehand - some of them played against them in high school - that they were ballplayers."

The two newcomers have proved their coaches and teammates right.

McBreen, who bats fifth in the batting order, is third on the team in batting average (.364) and hits (32). He leads the team in walks (20) and is second in on-base percentage (.487). On the mound, he's 3-0 with a 3.68 ERA.

Jimenez is batting .333 with a .417 on-base percentage and brings valuable speed to the lead-off spot. His quickness and ability to get on base for sluggers like Kremer and Jensen is why he leads the team in runs (38).

Together, the play of Jimenez and McBreen is a big reason why Worthington (24-8-1) earned the top seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. Worthington faces fifth-seeded Adrian tonight at 6:30.

"We wouldn't be where we are without them, just because of their defense and speed," said Kremer, who leads the team in nearly every statistical category. "If they put it in play, they can beat it out. Even on routine grounders, with their speed, it's tough to get them out."

Similarly, McBreen and Jimenez wouldn't be where they are without the understanding and acceptance of their new coach and teammates.

"I don't want to penalize kids who live in a town that doesn't have enough kids to support a VFW team," Weber said. "It's not fair to the kids who love baseball.

"Obviously, they've been a blessing to us. They've melted in with our leaders, and they come to the park ready to play."

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