Spending last summer with the Eau Claire Express, former Marshall Tiger and current Augustana College (S.D.) outfielder Nate Baumann said the one thing he learned about was poise.
"Just kind of taking every at-bat with a grain of salt, every thing that happens with a grain of salt," Baumann said. "This summer, it was such a long season and things are going to go wrong. But things are going to go right as well."
That poise had helped Baumann through a transition in the batting order, a midseason injury and the usual rigors of a baseball season to become one of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference's most dangerous hitters. Baumann and the Vikings meet up with Southwest Minnesota State University this weekend with a doubleheader Sunday in Sioux Falls, S.D. and a doubleheader Monday in Marshall.
The SMSU/AC matchup was scheduled for Saturday, but due to projected rainy conditions, the doubleheader was moved to Monday.
Even though it's in his hometown, the Vikings' junior says the Marshall game has become like any other game.
"I knew there were some people who were going to make it to the game on Saturday on a weekend, rather than a Monday and now they can't make it," Baumann said. "It's my hometown, there'll be people regardless. There'll be people rooting against me and people rooting for me.
"To me, it's still a baseball game. I'm pretty familiar with their team. It's always fun to play SMSU."
Through 45 games this season, Baumann is the Vikings' top hitter with a .433 batting average, 74 hits and 61 runs. Baumann leads the NSIC with 55 runs in 22 conference games.
Always a slugger for Augustana, Baumann was moved to the leadoff spot this season. At first, Baumann wasn't keen on the idea.
"I've been kind of a middle-of-the-order guy since I've been here. Last year, my role was to try and hit with people on base," Baumann said. "Being a guy that gets on base this year is a little different. You have to change your approach a little bit, take more pitches and hit behind in counts more often."
With the seventh best batting average in the conference, as well as the most hits and runs scored in the NSIC, suffice to say, Baumann has made the adjustment.
"I've definitely become a lot more comfortable with it than I was in the beginning of the season," Baumann said. "Through the beginning of the season, I went through a bit of a slump and I was really frustrated with what was going on. Conference season rolled around and I started hitting my stride, getting used to my place in the batting order."
Making his slump worse this season was a torn ligament in his hand after getting his fingers snagged in a Bemidji State player's glove during a slide. Instead of adding to his woes, the injured hand actually became a bizarre turn of fortunes.
"As soon as I hurt my finger, that weekend at Bemidji, I hit a home run and batted .500 on the weekend," Baumann said. "After that, it was kind of when I got out of my slump. It was my slump-buster."
A facet of his game that vastly improved this season was base running. Coming into the season with only 14 career steals, Baumann leads the NSIC with 32 steals this season, breaking the Augustana school record of 24.
Running around the bases has become a kind of friendly race with teammate Drew Heithoff, who is second on the team with 24 steals.
"I've always been pretty fast, been one of the faster guys on our team, but I've never been that good at stealing bases," Baumann said. "I've learned a lot about stealing bases in the three years I've been here, and from playing in the Northwoods League. This year, my coach has given me and Drew the green light to go if we got a good jump and he loves being aggressive on the base paths."
The exposure he got in the wood bat Northwoods League has helped get Baumann some attention from teams in Major League Baseball. So far, Baumann said he has filled out questionaires for the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays.
But the majors remain a pipe dream until the end of the Vikings season. In fact, it's caused him a little bit more stress than anything else.
"It's tough when there's any buzz about it, you have to tell your teachers there's a slight chance you won't be back next year and when you're doing grad school applications, it's kind of tough to figure out when you're going to go," Baumann said. "That's the only part I've been worried about. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I tried."
Even with a .374 career batting average and 31 career home runs, one team in particular seems to give Baumann fits: SMSU. In four career games against the Mustangs, Baumann is 4-for-15 as the Vikings are 0-4 against their NSIC foe.
Baumann suspects being familiar with the players and coaches from his days with the Marshall Tigers and the Marshall A's has given the Mustangs a bit of an advanced scouting report.
"I think part of it may have to do with their pitching coach had known me so well and had coached me for four years at the legion level. He probably expressed to his guys to keep me from beating them," Baumann said. "Other than that, sometimes you can hit guys, sometimes you can't and it just happened to be with SMSU the last couple years I've struggled a little bit and hopefully I can turn it around a little bit."
For Augustana's sake, hopefully Baumann can turn it around against SMSU and keep up his torrid pace this season. Coming into the weekend, Augustana is seventh in the conference with a 13-9 record (26-20 overall), sitting on the outside of the six-team NSIC tournament.
Baumann thinks the Vikings can not only make the tournament, Augustana can cause some damage.
"I think we can make noise in the tournament," Baumann said. "We got to take care of our business and not care how everyone else is doing. Once you get to tournament time, it's a new season. Anything can happen."