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Prep Baseball: T-Hawks will not be dissuaded

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MINNEAPOLIS—No monster truck rally was going to keep the Montevideo baseball team away from U.S. Bank Stadium. Not on Tim Epema's watch.

There were plenty of hurdles to jump in order for the Thunder Hawks to get the chance to play at the new, gleaming home of the Minnesota Vikings. On Monday morning at 9 a.m., though, there they were, taking the turf field and looking up at 66,000 seats while playing a game against Pipestone.

In the end, the entire process of registering a game at US Bank Stadium was worthwhile.

"I wanted to make sure that we secured this, because I knew this would be an opportunity that the kids would remember for a long time," Epema, the Montevideo head coach, said.

Simply getting on the schedule to play at the open-windowed stadium was going to be no easy task given the high demand from other schools. So when the first mass email appeared in Epema's inbox about playing a game there—before it had even been host to a single athletic contest—he made sure to be the first coach in the state to reply.

Not only did Epema immediately send an affirmative response, but, when he didn't hear back over the weekend, he took out his phone and made the necessary calls.

"To get the game, last summer there was an email sent out," Epema said. "I saw it within 12 minutes of getting it and immediately I sent the email saying that we want to play. And I'm not very patient, so three days later, I called the guy that I sent the email to and asked if he got it. He said, 'Oh yeah, I've got it.' "

That was only the beginning of the process.

The Thunder Hawks were soon tasked with coming up with the funds to cover the cost of renting the field—$975 per team for three hours. Thanks to contributions from a group of local business, that price wouldn't be anything for Montevideo to worry about.

Next, after diligent follow-ups with both the Minnesota State High School League and Pipestone, Montevideo secured the opportunity to play the first high school baseball game ever at US Bank Stadium, on April 1 at 8 a.m.—or so it thought. Enter monster truck rally, stage right.

"In January, I got an email saying, 'We are really sorry, but we have miscalculated the amount of time we need to change the field over from a monster truck rally to baseball. I'm sorry but we have to take your day away,'" Epema said.

Thus, the Thunder Hawks were suddenly left without a date, and had to "scramble" to figure out another time that both sides would be off of school and not have a game on the schedule. April 17 turned out to be that date and the experience would prove to be worth the entire process.

"I told (teammate Derek Kilibarda) coming in here, I said, 'Adrian Peterson has stepped right here,' " Thunder Hawks senior Jake Mundt said.

"He was fan-boying hard," Kilibarda replied.

The entire trip was a chance for Montevideo to live like Big Leaguers for a day.

On Sunday at 4 p.m., the team hopped on a bus and headed for a downtown hotel where they would spend the night. After an evening of overtaking the pool and ordering dinner in, Montevideo woke up the next morning and took the same field where many of the players' favorite athletes go to work on Sundays.

"Seeing the kids come in and right away, they look up and they were amazed at the size of it," Epema said. "They've seen it on TV, a couple of kids have been to Vikings games and things like that. Just the experience to get down here and play where professional athletes play is something that they'll have memories of for the rest of their lives."

The team likely won't be back for another game until at least 2019

"I could get used to it," Mundt said. "Just walking out for the first time was the best part."

Curt Hogg

Curt Hogg is a sports reporter at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. 

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