Minnesota West baseball: High hopes remain for Bluejays
WORTHINGTON -- TD Hostikka leans forward in his chair as he talks about this year's version of the Minnesota West baseball team. He's pleased and satisfied at the abilities of his players.
But Hostikka is not one to be satisfied merely to fill out a lineup card and let 'em loose. He's a thinker, and he wants his players to be aware, in real time, of every situation that presents itself.
That's how athletes become ballplayers.
After recently completing a successful Florida trip that resulted in four wins in 15 games, the Bluejays prepared this week for four games this weekend on a turf field in Proctor against Dakota College of Bottineau and Rainy River Community College. Hostikka remains convinced that this Minnesota West team could be the best he's had in his six years here.
"I think as long as we can play and don't have a lot of time off (due to bad weather), I expect to be among the top two in the division and earning that automatic region berth," he said.
The 4-11 Florida trip did nothing to change his opinion.
"At first it was fairly frustrating. But we finished the last six games with a .500 record," he said, noting that some of the opponents were from higher classes. "It's good for our guys to see what the next level is like."
The Bluejays' Johnny Mieses, a first baseman-catcher, came away from Florida as the MCAC Position Player of the Week after hitting at a .638 clip. Christian Aviles, a pitcher-infielder who was cited by the MCAC the previous week, is hitting .385 and struck out 17 batters over 10 innings in Florida.
Trevor Stuckey, a right-handed pitcher, won three of the team's four games in Florida while posting a 0.93 earned run average. Hostikka describes him as a hurler who pitches to contact, but he struck out 12 in 9.2 innings of work.
Other players getting a good start on the season are infielder Caleb Andreaus (six stolen bases), infielder Michael Geragi (nine hits), Worthington High School graduate Tucker Sorenson (nine hits and six stolen bases), and Jackson County Central graduate Darrius Johnson.
Hostikka says he has seven starting pitchers and two closers who are reliable, plus other pitchers who can help the team, too. The hitters are speedy; they stole 36 bases altogether in Florida.
Defense still needs work. "And I think that they're capable. They just have to focus and do the little things," said the coach.
That's where Hostikka's coaching techniques really take off.
The Bluejays were in the Minnesota West gym on Wednesday focusing on defense. Hostikka stresses repetition as a way to improve defense. It involves challenging them mentally.
"Kind of getting them to a point where they think they can't do it, and getting them to do it even more," he said, which prepares players to find their comfort zone during rough moments in actual games.
The coach insists that players think and adjust to changing situations through the entire game experience -- which also includes hitting.
He talks about the approach, about walking up to the plate with a goal in mind, and about making adjustments during the at bat.
A good hitting team, Hostikka said, leaning forward in his chair, doesn't have very many swings and misses. Players put the ball in play or foul it off to get more chances to put the ball in play.
The trend in modern baseball, which seems to stress the long ball and overlooks strikeouts, is not what Hostikka is looking for. It's all about efficiency, which leads to (what else?) winning.