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Eager to walk the difficult path

WILLMAR--Eddie Estrada isn't accustomed to sitting on the bench. In his last two years at Litchfield High School, the former Minnesota Mr. Baseball made himself a mainstay in the Dragon lineup. After batting .500 as a junior in 2014, he solidifie...

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Willmar Stinger Eddie Estrada strides into a pitch during a July 14 game against Thunder Bay at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. Jake Schultz / Tribune

WILLMAR-Eddie Estrada isn't accustomed to sitting on the bench.

In his last two years at Litchfield High School, the former Minnesota Mr. Baseball made himself a mainstay in the Dragon lineup. After batting .500 as a junior in 2014, he solidified his standing as the state's No. 1 recruit during a dominant senior season during which he hit .520 with eight home runs, 40 runs batted in and 40 runs scored.

The offensive potency continued in his first season with the Stingers last summer. He batted a team-best .356 with 31 RBIs in 40 games. This output came despite a poor early stretch during which he went through a 21 at-bat hitless streak.

But after taking a step up in competition, Estrada fell in the pecking order during his freshman season at the University of Minnesota this spring.

Though playing in over half the team's games (30 of 58), Estrada started just eight times and didn't get an at bat in any of the Gophers' final 11 contests. He finished the season batting .264 with eight RBIs and 11 runs scored.

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"I understood what I was coming into as a freshman (but) I'm highly competitive, so I was frustrated at times," said Estrada, who is in his second season with the Stingers. "Sometimes you just don't see as much playing time as you'd like."

After sitting late in his freshman season, Estrada appeared rusty upon his return to the Stingers this summer. In his first eight games, he was just 4-for-21 at the plate, with three of those hits coming in one game.

But much like he did last summer, Estrada seems to have effectively shaken off the early season rust.

Currently, he is batting .293 with two home runs, seven doubles and 16 RBIs.

The highlight of his season came in a July 1 game at Thunder Bay, when he went 4-for-5 with a homer, two doubles, two runs and five RBIs.

Estrada's lack of collegiate playing time-combined with the fact that he didn't join the team until a week into the season-initially made it difficult for Stinger Manager Matt Passauer to find him a spot in the lineup.

But eventually, Passauer said, "He started maximizing opportunities and it made (getting him at bats) pretty easy."

Naturally, Estrada is hoping his summer output will not only carryover through the rest of the Northwoods season but into his sophomore campaign in Minneapolis.

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Though not at his most productive, Estrada says he took major strides in mental development during the spring.

Whether it was repeatedly going over game situations or working on various iPad exercises assigned by the coaching staff, Estrada says he has a much stronger understanding of how to succeed at the college level than he did a year ago.

"If you don't have the mental game, you're letting yourself down," he said. "I think I'll be able to get a lot more out of next season because I'm ready for it now."

Regardless of how prepared he is, getting playing time may still be a challenge. The Gophers will return eight of their top nine hitters when they look to defend their Big Ten regular-season title next season.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Estrada says he's eager to walk the difficult path in front of him.

"I'm expecting to earn my own spot and if I earn my spot, I'm expecting an everyday role," he said. "If the opportunity presents itself, I'm going to for sure take it."

Related Topics: BASEBALLWILLMAR STINGERS
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