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McChesney adjusts back to baseball after year of hockey in Canada

For his walk-up music this summer, Dickinson Roughriders outfielder Michael McChesney opted for "Party in the USA," a 2009 hit from pop sensation Miley Cyrus.

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Michael McChesney swings for a hit against Mandan on June 27 at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

For his walk-up music this summer, Dickinson Roughriders outfielder Michael McChesney opted for "Party in the USA," a 2009 hit from pop sensation Miley Cyrus.

One could say it's an appropriate choice, given McChesney spent the better part of the last year north of the border earning All-Rookie team honors as a member of the Estevan Bruins in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He scored 21 goals to lead all SJHL rookies.

All season, Roughriders head coach Stephen Greenwood called McChesney's decision to play baseball this summer a sacrifice. He could be training for hockey, but he instead chose to make one more round through the American Legion baseball circuit.

For McChesney, he said the opportunity of using his final year of Legion eligibility - and spending it with a handful of teammates from Dickinson High's 2016 Class A baseball state championship team - was something he couldn't pass up.

"It was going to be my last time playing baseball for awhile," he said. "It's the last time I'll be with this group of guys - I have a lot of my closest, closest friends on this team - so I knew I wanted to come back for one more summer. ... I kept in touch with Greenwood throughout the season about if I was going to come back and play and what my plans were. It was definitely a 'yes' from me to come back and finish this."

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In certain ways, McChesney has looked like he never left. He recorded hits in each of the team's first eight games, and in 15 out of 20 to this point in the season, and his skills as an outfielder have not faded.

But he's found that he still needed some time to adjust - particularly as a hitter.

"I've struggled a little bit popping out all the time, striking out more than usual, but I've been working at it, trying to fix my swing, work on going the other way," McChesney said. "I'm starting to find some luck with hitting the ball where it's pitched and not trying to pull everything.

"It's just about getting my timing down. My timing's been off. I struggle with slower pitchers and off-speed stuff, so I'm looking to hit a fastball, but I've been missing the fastball because I'm either way too early or I'm way behind it. I'm starting to figure it out and also time up the off-speed now."

McChesney currently sports a .317 average with 19 runs scored, the latter figure being second-most on the team.

"He's a five-year starter at the Legion level, batting in the middle of the order, and any time you get a piece like that back, it's going to make your team a lot better," Greenwood said. "It adds a new dynamic to our lineup. You can move a four-hitter down to the five spot, and so on. It's a treat."

Still, Greenwood saw McChesney going through the motions of getting acclimated back to the field after being away from the game.

"Michael jumped into Legion baseball against guys that are in midseason form already, but I knew it wouldn't take him long to get into the swing of things," Greenwood said. "He's made the adjustments and is listening to what we have to tell him, and he's performing pretty well for us."

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Just as McChesney was looking forward to being back with old teammates, they were happy to welcome him.

"Adding onto a team that has (nine) seniors, you don't think that you can gain any more leadership or a better player. It's that great already," third baseman Cam Jorda said. "But to have him in our lineup and in the outfield where he tracks down anything, he's always pretty clutch.

"His future is definitely in hockey and for him to give up some of that time to get better on the ice just to come be with us for one more season, it means a lot. Hopefully we can make the most of it."

The Roughriders hope to make it a special summer, as they host the Central Plains Regional during the first week of August. In McChesney's final year of baseball, he wants nothing more than success in that tournament.

"Hopefully we can do some big things," he said. "We're hosting regionals, and obviously our goal is to win state before regionals, but it's a nice thing we're hosting it so we automatically get to go. We have a great chance to do some great things with some great guys."

A party would most certainly be in order then.

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