For any team in Legion baseball, playing in the state tournament can be the highlight of the season, but for Vermillion Post 1 players, this season’s state tournament takes on a whole different meaning.
When the 2017 season comes to a close after the state tournament this past week in Winner, seven of the nine players in the starting lineup will have put on a Post 1 jersey for the final time. One silver lining is that each of the seven players will take the skills and values learned from Vermillion baseball on to the next level, or continue to do so.
Hunter Christopherson (Dakota Wesleyan), Billy Mount (Berry College, Georgia), Nate Robertson (Mount Marty) and Carter Kratz (Morningside) will begin their college baseball careers during this upcoming school year. Brandon Mockler (Ellworth Community College, Iowa) and Cole Anderson (Mount Marty) will return to their college teams this season after being eligible to return to Post 1. And, Riley Peters is joining the football team at the University of South Dakota.
“Baseball is the best sport by far, I think,” Robertson said. “The coaches in general have done a great job in developing us and, not only steering us just towards baseball, but they let us play other sports and I think that has really developed our athleticism and our ability to play, which is awesome.”
What makes this group special in the scheme of things is they all have been playing together since the days of T-ball, with the exception of Mount who joined when he moved to Vermillion just before sixth grade. They have continued to play together, in both high school and Legion, up until the final state tournament, where not many other teams can boast seven college-bound athletes and six specifically for baseball.
The players credit Vermillion’s coaches and the program values that have been instilled from the beginning, and simply getting young players just excited about playing.
“Vermillion baseball has a huge legacy and a huge history to it and just to continue to stay with it and to respect coaches, respect umpires and to put the team first,” Anderson said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve ever really learned playing baseball, to not focus on individuality.”
All players agreed that Vermillion emphasizes sportsmanship and putting the team first, a message the echoes in the team pregame cheers and is seen through each at-bat and field play.
“A good attitude is always key,” Mount said. “When you start getting a bad attitude the umpires might pick up on it or the other team and then you might not get as many calls coming your way.”
And, of course, the proper skills and fundamentals needed to see success on the diamond was taught from the beginning.
“Just doing things right, especially with Post 1 we really emphasize all the way from u10 to just do everything right,” said Kratz, the team’s shortstop. “Post 1 really sets high standards for doing the right things in the game and that transfers over to beyond baseball.”
This group has seen its share of success with multiple state tournament appearances in both the high school club and Legion levels since, in the past three years, the team has only missed one state tournament. The group also took home a state title in the 13-14 age group.
Vermillion baseball has made a reputation for itself that is recognized when the team travels around the state. People recognize the Post 1 legacy that has been building since before this group ever put on a jersey. And now, as the face of the program, these players are taking the Vermillion baseball name to the collegiate level.
The players will be splitting up and joining new teams for the first time, but look to continue the work ethic and sportsmanship that has been taught since little league.
“At such a young age (former coach Jason) Gault really put it in our minds that if you want to succeed in life you have to work hard no matter what you are doing, whether it’s baseball, school. I just have always been taught to work hard,” Mockler said.
The new teams and tougher competition will shape them into better players, as Mockler and Anderson saw during their first season of college baseball. Both agreed the pitching at the next level is tougher as pitchers have more control and throw faster. It also means they have both seen improvements in batting averages from this summer compared to last summer.
“Hitting all year and just being around baseball all year really helped me because I went from last year, on Legion, I hit low .300’s and this year I am mid .400’s and the numbers really don’t lie,” Mockler said.
The others who haven’t experience the college level game are looking forward to the challenges it will bring.
“Everybody is going to be playing at the same level as you are playing,” Mount said. “A lot of teams around here don’t have six college baseball players on the team and I think that will be interesting to play against other guys who are at the same level.”
Along with adjusting to a new level of abilities, each player will need to adjust to new teammates and new coaches. With many attending local colleges, some of the new teammates will be former opponents while some opponents will be former teammates. Robertson and Anderson will continue as teammates at Mount Marty.
Four of the six will join teams that compete in the GPAC Conference of the NAIA and will be facing each other throughout the season.
“It’s going to be fun seeing what we can do against each other,” Christopherson said.
For a group that spend nearly half the year together between high school and Legion ball, it’s safe to say they’ve become more than teammates. They all consider themselves best friends who also aren’t afraid to push each other.
“I would say we are all really a tight bunch, but we are not afraid to step out of our circle and if someone is not doing their job we are right here to let them know they have to get going or if someone is down we pick them up. We are just really good friends having fun playing baseball,” Mockler said.
Having so many teammates with the same goal in mind, like playing in college, has been helpful into reaching that point.
“I think we all have the same sort of mindset, that we wanted to play college baseball coming in the start of high school,” Robertson said. “We all pushed each other and got each other in the weight room and got each other on the field. I just think that helps when you have six guys going to play college baseball; you help push each other.”
Though they are excited to move on, some admit they will miss playing at their home field of the last six years, Vermillion’s Prentis Park.
“It’s just been where we were taught everything -- how to hit properly, how to base run, how to catch a fly ball,” Christopherson said. “We started at the little field, but we are always there at Prentis and when we were little that’s where we’ve always want to go. We’d want to go to Prentis and watch the big kids play and now we are one of them, so it’s pretty special.”
The players finished up their Vermillion baseball careers during this season’s Legion State B tournament in Winner.
“We are Post 1. That’s cool enough in itself, being the first post in South Dakota. Just these guys, the coaches and just how we play the game is what’s really special,” Kratz said.
“After the season is done it’s going to be hard not to put that Post 1 jersey on,” Mockler said.