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Eli and Tate Gaul have gone through growing pains, but now their baseball skills are easy to see

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Brothers Eli (left) and Tate Gaul are growing in baseball together in Worthington. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Brothers Eli and Tate Gaul have been through the baseball wringer and come out on the other side.

Over the years, they’ve struggled like young ballplayers usually do. Eli called himself “atrocious” at the plate until recently in his career. Tate, who is finally starting to put some definition on his skinny frame, was at one time awkward and erratic on defense. But that was then, this is now.

Today, Eli, 21, is an important player on the Worthington Cubs amateur baseball team. Tate, 17, plays with the Cubs and with the local Senior Legion team, where his father, Tim, is the head coach. Both brothers are hitting pitches consistently this summer. Eli handles all his duties well as a catcher. Tate has become dependable at second base.

Local baseball fans have seen first-hand their development as ballplayers. Their coaches have seen it, too.

“Tate’s still pretty young, but they’re starting to blossom,” said Cubs player-manager Ryan Swanson recently. “They’re both there pretty much every game, and they’re gonna try their hardest. They’re the kinds of players that you want. There’s not a lot of guys who come in and say ‘I wanna catch nine innings,’ but Eli’s that guy.”

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Tim said his sons’ improvement has been gradual. The brothers have not come up exactly the same way, and they have different skill sets.

“Eli’s the kid who will grind for however long it takes. Tate is also mentally strong, but he’s gonna find the smart way to do it and not necessarily just grind it out,” said the boys’ father.

“When they were growing up, I always coached Eli’s team,” Tim continued. “Eli was under my constant coaching from 9U all the way up to Legion. He always hit pretty good, but his arm wasn’t very good.”

Tate didn’t have his dad’s coaching until recently. As a result, Tim surmises, he learned to be very self-sufficient and self-disciplined.

This summer, Tate is self-disciplined enough to carry a 40-hour-a-week summer job while playing baseball on two teams. That might be a struggle for some 17-year-olds, but for baseball-loving Tate it’s no big deal.

“I like playing for ‘em both. Me and those older guys are kind of buddies. So it’s fun to hang out with them at the baseball games,” he said.

Get out and do it

Improving at the game, said Tate, is nothing more special than getting out there and doing it.

“I think just playing more baseball, to be honest. ‘Cuz the more practice you get…”

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He continued, “I’ve gotten a lot better at fielding. I used to be an outfielder, but I moved to the infield. It’s a lot easier seeing the ball.”

And hitting? “I just think I can see it a lot better. I’ve just been focusing at the plate.”

Eli explains that he and his younger brother are “super competitive.” And baseball is a shared passion.

“I’ve loved it my whole life. I remember being real little and playing wiffle ball with my cousins. And Tate, he’s the same way. He was our bat boy (in WAYBA). He just wanted to be around,” Eli said.

There was a time -- not too long ago, said Eli -- that he didn’t have confidence as a hitter. This year, he’s playing more relaxed and he has more results to show for it. He attributes much of his success to coaches like his dad, and former Worthington High School mentor Stacy Sauerbrei. Lots of work in the batting cage helps, too.

Some who remember having watched Eli several years ago might be surprised at how he’s come along as a backstop. “Growing up, I had the worst arm on the team, so they put me at second,” he recalled.

But after another player moved away, he volunteered to catch. He was already a fan of Minnesota Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, and like Mauer Eli began to take pride in the position. The most important thing, Eli says now, is to support the pitcher. He also tries to understand each hitter and know his strengths and weaknesses.

“I love it,” Eli said.

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Both brothers agree that their dad was hard on them as up-and-coming ballplayers -- especially Eli.

“It’s a little tough. He’s harder on me than he is on anyone else,” said the 21-year-old. “And I’m hard on myself. And we’re so similar. We butt heads from time to time, like when I’m in the cage. And even in the field, he’ll get hard on me. But later we’re OK. Then it’s always, ‘I’m sorry.’”

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