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Roughriders gearing up for a fruitful summer

These boys of summer were, just a matter of days ago, the boys of spring. With the changing of the season, the "D" on the cap morphs from block letters into cursive, and orange is stricken from the color scheme. Furthermore, a new goal comes into...

Dickinson Roughriders third baseman Sam England throws out a runner at first base against Regina on June 10, 2016. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson Roughriders third baseman Sam England throws out a runner at first base against Regina on June 10, 2016. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)

These boys of summer were, just a matter of days ago, the boys of spring.

With the changing of the season, the "D" on the cap morphs from block letters into cursive, and orange is stricken from the color scheme.

Furthermore, a new goal comes into focus.

The Dickinson Roughriders - a great deal of whom are less than a week removed from an 18-2 loss to West Fargo in the Class A baseball state tournament championship game - begin their North Dakota American Legion baseball season Wednesday with a doubleheader at Williston, starting at 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time. That trip is followed by a doubleheader Thursday at Minot.

The team's first home games come Tuesday, June 13 against Williston at 5:30 p.m.

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It's undoubtedly a quick transition from one season to the next, but the hope is that the result from last week drives the team toward a successful summer.

"You have to hit the reset button - kind of keep that in the back of your mind all season to motivate you," said outfielder Eli Jung, who was second on the team with a .336 batting average last summer.

Dickinson's Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark and Astoria Field will play host to the Central Plains Regional Tournament Aug. 2-6, and as the hosts, the Roughriders are guaranteed an automatic berth.

At Tuesday morning's practice, several members of the team wore black T-shirts with "One Team, One Dream" emblazoned across the chest, with "Shelby, NC" sandwiched between the rhyming phrases. Emerging as the winners of the Central Plains Regional would send the Roughriders to the American Legion World Series in North Carolina.

The new goal is already clear.

"Saturday was heartbreaking, to say the least. I've told a lot of people that this team was very deserving of that state title - not only on the field, but they're just a great group of kids off the field," head coach Stephen Greenwood said. "That just wasn't in the cards for us, but I think we can use that as fuel to keep working harder. ... Our goal is to win a Legion state title - it would be the first since 2009 here in Dickinson. We want to get in (the regional) that way, because that means we'll be playing our best baseball coming into it."

Greenwood took over as head coach of the Roughriders in the early part of last season, when Cory Hansen resigned after a 2-7 start. Greenwood coached them to a 19-15 record the rest of the way.

At the start of this summer, he has the benefit of taking a new approach to coaching.

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"It's much different. Last season was a just survive, roll-with-the punches kind of thing," Greenwood said. "And this year, it's been baseball 24-7-365, getting everything organized. As a leader, you want to be as organized as possible and cover all the bases before they get thrown at you."

The Roughriders will be without catcher Chase Ballard still, as he recovers from a labrum injury; and they will miss the services of outfielder Shawn Steffan and infielder Treven Hopfauf next week as both train with Team North Dakota for the June 17 Badlands Bowl.

However, the Roughriders will welcome back outfielder Michael McChesney and infielder Sam England this summer.

"Chez is really good in the outfield and with his stick, and Sam hits really well and is good at third base too," said infielder Lucas Jones. "Sam's a utility guy - he can play first, catcher, pitch and third base. Having them around is big for us."

England, who played on Dickinson High's junior varsity as a senior this year due to transfer rules and the dissolution of a baseball co-op between DHS and Heart River, is excited for the summer to finally be here.

"It feels great. The entire spring, I just couldn't wait for spring to be over so I could start this again," said England, who hit .324 last summer. "I knew I'd be able to play with the big boys. I missed it."

McChesney, who had team-highs in batting average (.366), hits (41), home runs (three), runs (33) and stolen bases (10) last summer, has returned for the summer from Estevan, Saskatchewan, where he played this last season with the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, and he figures to be a welcomed addition to the lineup yet again.

"With Michael coming back, I think that says a lot about his character. He's doing great things playing hockey, and he could have easily focused on that because he has some big dreams with his hockey career," Greenwood said. "We're very grateful that he wants to be a part of this. He's sacrificing a lot for us. Sammy's coming back - he couldn't play varsity with us because of the South Heart team that was formed - and with his work ethic and his hitting, that's going to be a big boost as well."

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