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Heart River baseball finally takes the field

BELFIELD -- The field was a little muddy, the lights weren't installed yet and it was a cool spring day, but it was beautiful. The newly formed Heart River baseball team held its first ever practice on Monday, giving the Cougars their first taste...

BELFIELD - The field was a little muddy, the lights weren't installed yet and it was a cool spring day, but it was beautiful.

The newly formed Heart River baseball team held its first ever practice on Monday, giving the Cougars their first taste of a baseball diamond in the history of either school in the co-op.

"Our field is, for the most part, dry. We've got some standing water in right field, our infield can't be fully used let," said Daren Kurle, the team's head coach that was hired in January. "We just brought in some electricity for our lights for our field, which I think are being put up this weekend, so we have some trench lines for our field that we have to flatten out."

However, there was discernible excitement in the air.

"It wasn't very nice outside - it was a little breezy, a little chilly, but the sun was out and we were out playing baseball," Kurle said, "so life was pretty good today."

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The field, much like the team itself, is a work in progress.

The roster is not yet finalized, and the members have varying levels of experience with bats and gloves. Positions are not yet determined, to say nothing of a batting order.

"I told the kids today, 'When we start getting full infield-outfield, you guys pick where you want to play. You go ahead and pick your spot, and we'll put you there, and then we'll evaluate you,'" Kurle said.

Kurle, who also serves as the principal at Belfield High School, has previous head coaching experience with American Legion teams in Wishek and Linton, with the high school team at Central McLean and, most recently, with the Bismarck Senators American Legion team this past summer. He also said he will be on the staff of the Dickinson Roughriders this summer.

For the Cougars in their first season, Kurle envisions a small-ball team.

"We're going to tailor it to what the kids do well, and with this group we're going to have to get the bat on the ball and get the ball in play," he said. "I'm a big fan of small-ball, but nobody likes the home run more than me either, so if we get a guy who can hit a homer, that's great, but I don't know if we have the hitters to hit home runs. My first year of Legion down in Wishek, I had a team that hit right around 70 home runs as a team in 40, 50 games in the summer that we played. We had some big hitters, and when you have big hitters the game's a bit different, but when you have guys that can put the ball in play, you have to play to their tendencies."

Because Babe Ruth Leagues only offer baseball up to age 15 - and with no Legion team to speak of - boys in South Heart and Belfield ran out of options to play after hitting that age. That being the case, some of the team's players that have seen the field most recently are its youngest members, Kurle said.

That's why the first day of practice was dedicated to the simple things: ground balls, fly balls, fungo practice, footwork, throwing.

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"It's going to be fundamentals for a long time," Kurle said. "I had a kid ask me, 'When are we going to start swinging a bat?' And another one on the bus said, 'Probably about a month.'"

Like the team's field, the offense will come together soon enough. The season starts April 11 against Shiloh Christian.

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