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Hope returns: A solid Edgerton baseball program returns to action after 2020 season was shut down by coronavirus

When schools were closed and competition was prohibited last spring because of the state’s reaction to COVID-19, athletes all over Minnesota were sidelined. It was especially tough in Edgerton, where the Southwest Christian boys basketball team was deprived of a state tournament appearance and the highly regarded Edgerton-SW Christian baseball squad was prevented from playing even one game.

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EDGERTON — For baseball fans, spring is the best time of the year and brings an abundance of optimism, hope and good vibes.

But that wasn’t the case last April.

“All last spring I was kind of sick to my stomach,” said veteran Edgerton High coach Ron Zwart. “We had a good team and weren’t even able to step on the field.”

He paused a moment.

“I’m so darn glad to get on the field again,” Zwart said. “The guys I’ve got are ready to go. It’s going to be so good to be out there again.”

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When schools were closed and competition was prohibited last spring because of the state’s reaction to COVID-19, athletes all over Minnesota were sidelined. It was especially tough in Edgerton, where the Southwest Christian boys basketball team was deprived of a state tournament appearance and the highly regarded Edgerton-SW Christian baseball squad was prevented from playing even one game.

Depressing is what it was.

“We really tried to keep our spirits high,” said Gabe Gilbertson, now a senior pitcher-shortstop on the Edgerton team. “We’d still meet up, in like a parking lot where we were still a few feet away. We tried to stay together.”

Instead of staying together, the Dutchmen are looking forward to playing together. With an emphasis on “playing.”

“Honestly it’s a very exciting and anxious feeling,” Gilbertson said. “We’re all ready to get out there and we’re not going to take any of it for granted.”

Even with masks?

“It’s a little annoying, since we’re outside and pretty safely distanced,” he said. “But if that’s the only way we can play we’re going to wear them.”

The Dutchmen were to open the season Thursday (April 8) at Adrian and play their first home game on Monday (April 12). Rainy weather already postponed the opener.

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Last year’s Edgerton club would have included pitcher-shortstop Jacob Van Dam, who starred during the summer for the Gopher League’s Hadley Buttermakers.

“He was tough. We were going to jump on Jacob’s back and see how far he could take us,” Zwart said.

There were other talented seniors a year ago, too. Kade Fey, Denver Decker, Devin Pietz and Josiah Tinklenberg would all have made major contributions.

“It was a good core and we could have filled in around them pretty well,” Zwart said.

Jacob Ockenga is another senior on Edgerton’s team this spring. He’s a third baseman and hard hitter.

“We were going to be really good last year,” he said. “It was so disappointing.”

Van Dam is now playing basketball and baseball at Crown University in Waconia.

“Van Dam would have led us to a lot of places last year,” Ockenga said. “He’s a great pitcher.”

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This year’s Edgerton squad might be highly successful. Or perhaps not.

“In a sense there aren’t any seniors playing,” Zwart said. “Because nobody was able to play last year.”

But no matter the record, no matter the successes or setbacks, every high school baseball player in Minnesota is going to feel like a winner this spring.

“That’s right,” Ockenga said. “It’s going to be fun times.”

On a recent Saturday morning Zwart was tending to the Edgerton ball diamond. He said the smell of baseball filled his senses and warmed his heart.

Then later, when his team gathered for practice, more emotions came.

“To see their big smiles,” Zwart said, “was just a great thing. They’re great kids and I’m so happy they can be back on the field.”

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