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Foreign exchange student adjusting to baseball

April 26, 2008
Wayne Cook
MINNEOTA – The Minneota High baseball team has only played a handful of games this year due to the inclement spring weather.

That’s meant plenty of time practicing indoors.

Vincent Sellmer doesn’t mind.

He’s an exchange student from Germany and he’s trying baseball for the first time.

Sellmer, a senior, is a reserve outfielder at Minneota.

He’s chomping at the bit to get a chance to play. Now, if the weather would only cooperate.

Sellmer played football, handling the kickoff duties for the junior varsity squad this year. It was last fall that he talked to Keven Larson about possibly trying baseball.

“I don’t have a whole lot of contact with the high school kids,” said Larson, who teaches in the elementary school. “It kind of happened that he showed some interest. Being it’s a small school, everybody knows if (new) kids come in (the district). We’ve had exchange students before in baseball. There were a couple on the team last year.”

With no previous experience in organized baseball, Sellmer wanted to give the sport a try.

“I talked to (Larson),” Sellmer said. “I told him I did track in Germany and I wanted to try different things. I liked the game. I wanted to try (baseball). I told him that it’s my first year, and I’m probably not very good.”

The Vikings baseball coach knew of Sellmer. The two kept in contact.

“I talked to him a little bit during winter,” Larson said. “He talked to me and asked about baseball, when the first (team) meetings were. He said he didn’t play very much baseball. But he was willing to give it a try.”

Sellmer’s athletic involvement in Germany centered around soccer and track.

“I played soccer like seven years ago and track about five years ago,” he said. “I didn’t like soccer that much because there was so much competition. It’s not fun. I not like soccer.”

In Germany, there are no school-sponsored sports. Sports are provided through private clubs. In track, Sellmer was a long distance runner.

“I liked it a lot,” he said. “You are competing against yourself, at the end.”

As an exchange student, his first days spent in the United States were in Rhode Island and Boston. That was 10 months ago.

He saw his major-league game in Fenway Park, but he doesn’t remember who the Red Sox played.

“The first game, it was kind of boring because I didn’t know the rules,” Sellmer said. “I said, ‘what are they doing?’ and ‘what’s going on here?’ ”

Quickly, he picked up the game. He’s not a baseball expert, by any means, but he’s gained an appreciation for the game. He hasn’t watched enough baseball to learn about all the superstars yet.

“I only know the Twins,” Sellmer said. “I watch them on TV. I watched a game in the Metrodome. It was the fourth game of the opening series. It was really cool. I know the rules and it was more exciting. I knew what they were doing.”

Who’s his favorite Twins player? Justin Morneau.

“He hits home runs and is a good first baseman,” Sellmer said. “I got his jersey. I got it for Christmas from my parents in Germany. That was neat.”

Like most teenagers, he fit right in the crowd at the dome. He hasn’t met Morneau face to face, but he’s quickly realized why baseball is called America’s pastime. Now, he knows why fans believe players are role models.

“I understand that,” Sellmer said.

Sellmer has gained the respect of his teammates, who have taken him under their wings, so to speak.

“He’s been accepted by the guys in other (sport) activities,” Larson said. “They’ve been real good in showing him the ropes. Telling him when the practices are, what kinds of things he’d need for games. The equipment, shoes, different things.”

That first practice was an eye-opener for Sellmer.

“I showed up at the first practice and it was for pitchers and catchers,” Sellmer said. “I went back home again. My coach said, ‘You can come back in a few days, and we’ll practice.’ ”

“The first day, he was a little overwhelmed,” Larson said. “I wasn’t surprised. He asked what it was all about. The pitchers and catchers. The batting cage. Different things.”

Sellmer was penciled in as an outfielder.

“We tried him in the outfield to start with,” Larson said. “Just because that was the spot he’d adapt the easiest to. He’s adapted pretty well.”

With the lousy spring weather, it’s meant being outside only six or seven days so far. Much of time has been spent indoors in the batting cage.

“That’s hard,” Sellmer said. “I’m not used to hitting a ball – I get blisters (on my hands), all that stuff. I was so nervous. I’m not sure if it was a ball or strike. It’s not hard swinging the bat — just hitting the ball. Every now and then, I actually hit it.”

Larson can see a vast improvement from the start of the season.

“Absolutely,” Larson said. “From the first time in the batting cage to now, it’s a more consistent basis of hitting the ball, putting it in play.”

For an outfielder, the biggest challenge is catching the ball.

“I’m not very good at catching,” Sellmer said. “It’s more practice, I guess. I like the outfield. It’s OK. I don’t know all the time where to throw the ball. They tell me. I do my best. I’m not actually the best (player).”

Larson hasn’t seen Sellmer in enough game-like situations to know what position in the outfield is best for him.

“He can judge a (fly) ball, for the most part,” Larson said. “It’s been windy, and it’s been tough for anybody. On normal days, he’s getting better. When we take infield-outfield practice, he’s out there. He looks comfortable. He’s still a little nervous.”

Sellmer’s goal is to get in a varsity game. To date, he’s had one at-bat.

“Of course, I want to play,” he said. “That’s why I went out for baseball. Of course, I’m glad (I tried it). When I go back to Germany, I can start track any time I want.”

Baseball has been a great experience. Sellmer has caught on to the dugout chatter.

“He’s picked up on the baseball chatter, the times to say certain things,” Larson said. “To the pitcher or the hitter. It’s pretty unique. The guys in the dugout help out. Vincent is very likeable. He’s a positive guy to have around.”

“I try to cheer as much as I can for them,” Sellmer said. “My teammates accept me. They cheer for me. They want to see me succeed.”

When Sellmer returns to Germany, he will never forget what he’s learned about baseball.

What will he tell his parents?

“That it’s a harder game than it looks,” Sellmer said. “They are just not throwing the ball around. They are thinking what they are doing. And it’s not a boring game if you know the rules.”

Sellmer was excited to see his first action recently.

“One inning I actually played,” said Sellmer, not remembering whom the Vikings played. “It was exciting because you are standing in the outfield and thinking what to do. Concentrating. Thinking, not wanting to make a mistake.”

“I wouldn’t have any problem putting him in a game,” Larson said. “I’d like to have a situation where he can be successful. Hopefully, that works out in our next couple of games.

Sellmer has had one at-bat. He struck out. Swinging.

“We went up there,” Larson said. “He didn’t seem nervous. He had three good swings. He wasn’t shy about taking a hack. That was good to see.”

Getting a hit would make his Minneota baseball experience more memorable.

“If I could collect (a hit), it would be awesome,” Sellmer said. “I hope my batting gets better. Time will tell.”



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