WILLMAR — As college baseball coaches started reaching out, Willmar baseball coach Tom DeBoer had a conversation with Andrew Baumgart.

The Cardinals coach wanted to know what the 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher was thinking in regards to his future in baseball and what to tell anyone inquiring about Baumgart.

“He told me early on that he really wanted to bet on himself,” DeBoer said. “He didn’t want to settle and sign with somebody early. Andrew knows he hasn’t reached that level he thinks he can get to.”

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled his junior high-school baseball season, Baumgart put in the work. Over the summer, he got Division I looks and committed to North Dakota State University.

Now as a senior, Baumgart has emerged as the ace for the Cardinals, who are ranked third in Class AAA with a 10-0 record. Heading into Tuesday’s home doubleheader against top-ranked Bemidji, Baumgart has a 6-0 record with a 1.25 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 28 innings.

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“You can see the confidence level of our team when he’s on the mound, it goes to another level,” DeBoer said. “He’s that good of a leader, he’s that good of a player where the guys believe a little more when he’s out there; Not to discredit any of our other players — we get a number of contributions from them — but it’s been fun to see other players respond to his leadership.”

Baumgart’s bet worked and now he’s able to relax a little while hoping to bring Willmar its first Central Lakes Conference title since 1988.

“In previous years, it’s been like, you got to keep producing, do this, do that and make sure these guys are getting looks at you,” Baumgart said. “Now, I have that (college) opportunity, now let’s go have fun. Play ball and keep developing but have fun and keep making memories.”

Willmar's Andrew Baumgart (middle) by head coach Tom DeBoer in a Central Lakes Conference game against St. Cloud Apollo on Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar's Andrew Baumgart (middle) by head coach Tom DeBoer in a Central Lakes Conference game against St. Cloud Apollo on Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Early glimpses

When Willmar made the state tournament in 2018, DeBoer added Baumgart, then a freshman, onto the postseason roster. The goal was to have a young player in the mix to absorb the state experience.

“I talked to our ninth-grade coaches and I was like, ‘hey, who’s your top player this year?’” DeBoer said. “The idea was I wanted to bring them with to the state tournament and give them that experience. Take away something from it and bring that to our team in the future.”

As a sophomore, Baumgart pitched eight innings, mostly in relief, picking up a pair of saves.

Once again, he was soaking up the experience with a senior-laden Cardinal team that went 14-10 and reached the Section 6AAA championship.

“A lot of it was the poise they had on the field,” Baumgart said. “I remember being nervous and having the jitters that season. … This team really had no varsity experience at all because we lost all of last year. Watching those guys in front of us and how they played and and held themselves up on the field, that’s helped a lot.”

But, the pandemic forced the Cardinals to wait for the payoff.

Prep Baseball Roundup: Cards sweep Rocori, 9-1, 6-1

Summer ball

Baumgart was trying to get his name out there. But with no junior high school season and the country shut down due to the coronavirus, it was tough to get any traction.

“I won’t lie, it was pretty tough,” Baumgart said. “Spring was the first thing to go and basically nothing was happening.

“I was lucky enough to play with a team this summer and we went to Iowa and Indianapolis. The dead period (for college recruiting) didn’t help, but at the same time, I was getting video and games in.”

Baumgart’s summer team, the Minnesota Starters, held a Prep Baseball Report event on Aug. 10, 2020. That day, his fastball was sitting between 83-to-85 miles per hour, a jump of four MPH in less than five months.

Along with the work on the mound, the velocity increase showed Baumgart’s efforts in the weight room paid off.

“I was 165 pounds at the end of August, and by the end of November, I was up to 190,” he said. “I would go lift before, but it wasn’t the same excitement as it is now.”

Baumgart added, “I’m able to attack more on the mound this year. My velo has drastically increaed from my sophomore year and I don’t have to nibble as much with off-speed stuff and be that pitch-to-contact guy. Now I can go at guys and throw that off-speed pitch to get them off-balance and then go back with that fastball and blow by them.”

After the August event, Baumgart noticed his phone lighting up a little more than usual.

“I looked at my phone after and I had new people following me on Twitter,” he said. “And that’s when it started.”

Baumgart mentioned talking with Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan) as well as checking out Davidson College (North Carolina) before settling on NDSU.

“At the end of it, with NDSU, my dad and I went up and visited one day and it felt like the right place and pulled the trigger,” Baumgart said.

Said DeBoer, “I hope that at NDSU, he gets those chances and with their coaching staff there, he’s able to reach his goals.”

Willmar senior Andrew Baumgart is committed to play college baseball at Division I North Dakota State University. 

Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
Willmar senior Andrew Baumgart is committed to play college baseball at Division I North Dakota State University. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Back on the diamond

Even while working with teammate Sam Etterman over the winter, the excitement for the spring season was palpable.

“As early as December and January, we’d be like ‘we’re so excited for this year,’” Baumgart said. “There was a lot of built-up energy.”

DeBoer coaches VFW baseball in Willmar and knew this would be a strong crop of players. Watching from the stands during fall baseball at St. Cloud State, DeBoer’s hopes grew. So far this spring, nothing has cut into that feeling.

“They have a good chemistry and vibe together and it’s fun to be with them at practices and games,” DeBoer said. “They genuinely like each other.

“This is the kind of group you need to have to get to the next level. Having coached good teams in the past, we’re good.”

Baumgart opened the season with a two-hitter against Mound-Westonka, striking out 10 in four innings. Against Rocori, he struck out eight while allowing one unearned run on four hits and one walk. He is penciled in as the Game 1 starter against Bemidji.

“Having Andrew gives us that chance you don’t always have,” DeBoer said. “It really helps to have an ace, and he’s an ace.”

He’s also an ace that’s crushing the ball in the batter’s box. Seeing time at first base, Baumgart has a .438 batting average with a home run, three triples and a pair of doubles. He also has 11 RBIs and has scored 12 times.

That aspect of Baumgart’s game was a little unexpected after hitting sparingly for his club team.

“Those (other) kids are on the team to hit and I was there to throw so they’re going to DH for me,” Baumgart said. “My dad and I have talked about this and my approach this year is, hey, just go up and swing the bat. I’m going to college and I’m not going to hit, so I may as well make the most of what I have left at the plate.”

DeBoer laughed when he heard of Baumgart’s eased plate approach.

“If Andrew tells you he’s doing something just carefree and not thinking about it, don’t buy it,” DeBoer said. “That kid puts more thought into anything that he does than anybody. His approach at the plate is outstanding. He looks to take the right swing at the right count. He knows if there’s runners on base what his job is. He’s not just up there trying to whail on the ball.”

This spring, the Cardinals are betting on Baumgart to win a conference title 33 years in the making along with the program’s fourth state appearance.

He is the reason,” DeBoer said regarding Baumgart’s success. “The work he put in (during) the last year, it’s the reason he’s done so well this season. It’s the reason he started getting looks to go to college and why NDSU made an offer to him. He’s transformed himself from a good player to a great player.”