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Bluejays lack depth, but they're dialed in

The Minnesota West baseball team is lacking depth, but the players the Bluejays have are focused on making it work.

WORTHINGTON -- Forget for a moment that the Minnesota West Community and Technical College baseball team hasn’t yet won a spring game. Or that first-year head coach Zach Bakko has fewer players than he started with, and that he began the year with only 11.

The 10 Bluejay players are focused, they love the sport, they’re hard workers, and several of them have already distinguished themselves.

“I think that the guys have really done a good job of keeping things in perspective,” Bakko said. “A lot of coaches, what their job is about is to tell them why they’re not playing. With me it’s, ‘OK, this is what I need you to do.’”

Everybody plays when you’re a Bluejay in 2021. Not all of them at the same time, however. Bakko doesn’t like to use a designated hitter, for the simple reason that if somebody should turn an ankle or sprain a wrist, someone’s gotta be ready on the bench.

Minnesota West’s most recent action resulted in a pair of losses to nationally-ranked Century College last Saturday. The Jays, who have yet to host a game, lost their opener 12-2 to MState-Fergus Falls, fell 11-10 to Ellsworth Community College JV, and got swept by Anoka-Ramsey 10-6 and 8-4.

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Despite the losses, West -- which is made up entirely of freshmen -- led in every game outside of Century.

Catcher Brock Starley, a Utah product, went 4-for-4 in the Ellsworth game after collecting two hits against MState. Bakko very much wants him to stay healthy.

“My biggest thing is my catcher, Brock. He’s been my stud this year,” said Bakko. “A couple of times against Century he got hit with a couple foul balls … Every time somebody gets hit with a pitch, fouls one off the leg …”

Starley is a star at throwing runners out on the bases and blocking errant pitches. A tough guy who is dependent on hearing aids, Starley won’t back down from anything, said his coach. He’s even used him as a lead-off hitter, something rare for a catcher.

Gehrig Monday, from Whitewater, Wis., threw a complete game against Century and has become a dependable starting pitcher. Ian Stamer, from Adrian, is hitting around .400 and is an outstanding base stealer as well as a strong pitcher. Edgar Aviles, from Tampa Bay, Fla., has made plays around second base that Bakko calls “amazing,” and he’s hitting well, too. Miguel Garcia, from Puerto Rico, homered three times in two games against Anoka-Ramsey.

The Bluejays are always ready to play ball.

“I think I have a special group of young men who are saying, ‘I’m good. I’m fine,’” Bakko explained, adding that he never has to tell them to practice harder. If anything, he has to remind them to stop taking more reps.

The attitudes are that good, said the coach. They travel three or four hours on a bus to get to games, and on the way home, said Bakko, “and it doesn’t even seem like we’ve lost.”

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There is good parental support, too, for this diverse team. One parent arrived already this year from Puerto Rico to watch her son play. Starley’s family is planning to arrive from Utah next month to see a game or two.

The Bluejays learned Friday that they will be forced to remain idle until May 6 because of a positive COVID-19 test. If their luck holds otherwise, the team hopes continue to play baseball this spring with a bare minimum of players.

But Bakko believes next year will be better. All but one of his group has already said they’ll be back to play again next year, and with another strong freshman class coming in in 2022, the coach won’t have to wince when he sees his players get hit by a pitch.

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