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Striving for more: Jung’s passion shines through in final Roughriders season

In 41 games last summer, Dickinson Roughriders outfielder Eli Jung tallied 18 RBI -- third-most on the team. This year, through just 18 contests, Jung leads the team with 19 runs already driven in. In part, that is a testament to teammates in fro...

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Dickinson Roughriders outfielder Eli Jung takes off for first base after hitting a double against Mandan on Tuesday at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

In 41 games last summer, Dickinson Roughriders outfielder Eli Jung tallied 18 RBI - third-most on the team.

This year, through just 18 contests, Jung leads the team with 19 runs already driven in. In part, that is a testament to teammates in front of him getting on base, but Jung's swings are clearly yielding more consistent results.

"I think back to the spring, the (Class A state) semifinal night, he had the biggest hit of the year," Roughriders (12-6) head coach Stephen Greenwood said, recalling Jung's two-out, game-tying triple in the sixth inning against Fargo Davies. "He's had a couple of huge hits since then. I think he's really getting confident in the box in those situations. He's trying to hit the ball hard, and his focus level is through the roof."

However, on the other side of confidence, Jung admits, his frustration, bordering on self-doubt.

"It's two ends of the spectrum," he said. "When it's going good, it's going really good, and then when it's going bad, what I have to work on is not getting down on myself or getting too negative or too upset. When it's bad, I have to let it go and look back on the good things and take that into my next at-bat."

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Jung has never been one to hide his emotions, but Greenwood said this is not a knock against him - Jung is simply expressing how much the game means to him. And he respects that.

"I'm a passionate person, and I coach with passion, as well. I don't hide mine either, so I love the fight in the kids, especially Eli," Greenwood said. "Eli is very, very hard on himself, to a fault at times. He wants so badly to see results from the hard work he puts in, and I get that. Nobody works harder than Eli, nobody takes more hacks than Eli. For him to not get the results he thinks he may deserve is a little tough.

"I really preach to Eli to try to stay even keel, enjoy the moments when they're high, and when they're low to not get too low. Just understand the averages. It's a constant battle in this game, and it's not for the weak."

Despite his admitted headiness, Jung's .353 average (fourth-best on the team among regulars) and 15 runs scored (third) suggest his summer has had more ups than downs. Take, for instance, Tuesday's first game against Mandan: a 3 for 3 outing with three doubles, three runs scored and two runs driven in.

"Over the past couple weeks, I've just been focusing on having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard," he said. "That's the best way to help my team out. My average isn't going to help my team, but hitting situationally or just hitting balls hard is going to help my team."

Jung's bat has certainly made some noise this year, but his defense has been just as valuable. He may not have the same speed of his fellow regular outfielders - Shawn Steffan and Michael McChesney - but he makes up for it by making good reads on fly balls and unleashing some strong throws.

"He's got a way stronger arm than I do, so he could throw more people out, given the opportunity," Steffan said. "I think that's one of his strengths in the outfield. Not too many teams try to run on him."

Steffan shared the basketball court with Jung in the winter and said his passion was evident then too.

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"In basketball, he was aggressive, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer," Steffan said. "You can kind of see the same mentality with baseball. He goes up to the plate, and he knows what his job is, and he gets it done. He's going to do what he has to do to help the team."

It's Jung's drive and love for the sport that helped him garner the attention of collegiate scouts. Once this summer ends, Jung will be on his way to the University of Minnesota-Crookston, embarking on a new baseball journey.

"To meet a new group of guys and play four more years, I'm really excited to move on to something else, but I'm really going to miss playing with all these guys," he said.

As he noted, his teammates here still have a bulk of their summer to play. With his fellow seniors, who Greenwood said will age-out of American Legion eligibility after this year, Jung hopes the group can make the most of their final months playing together.

"We've all been playing Mustang baseball since we were 6 or 7, and we were on the same all-star team since we were 9, almost the entire team," Jung said. "These guys are my best friends, and I've been with them since I was 6 years old, so it means a lot to have one last summer with everybody. ... We want to take this season as far as we can, just keep playing well and having fun."

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