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Beyond the bat

Minnesota Duluth baseball player Tim Garceau came to the plate last week at Winona State with one out in the top of the 11th inning and the game tied at 1.

Minnesota Duluth baseball player Tim Garceau came to the plate last week at Winona State with one out in the top of the 11th inning and the game tied at 1.

After falling behind 0-2 in the count against the Warriors' closer, Garceau worked out a walk. The senior outfielder then stole second base to set up David Olson's game-winning RBI single to left field. The ball was sharply hit, but with Garceau's speed and a friendly outfield bounce, the play at the plate wasn't even close. UMD 2, Winona State 1.

Garceau could leave UMD as the school's all-time home-run leader, but his impact on the field goes beyond his long-ball ability. Garceau, who took a medical redshirt last season because of an ankle injury, is back to lead UMD into its North Central Conference opener Monday at defending league champion Minnesota State-Mankato.

"A lot of power hitters at this level don't have the foot speed to steal bases, but Tim isn't just a power hitter, he's an athlete," UMD coach Bob Rients said. "He's not a mammoth guy. He's not 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds or anything like that, but he's explosive. He hits doubles and singles and when he gets on base, he can put pressure on a defense with his speed. With Tim, it's not just all about the home runs."

But that's what people notice.

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Garceau has four homers this season and 31 for his career, leaving him three shy of tying UMD's record of 34 set by Jeff Kaldor (1987-91). Like Kaldor, who played quarterback on the UMD football team, Garceau is a two-sport athlete.

"The record is kind of in the back of my mind, but it's nothing I think about all the time. Team stuff comes first," Garceau said. "It's just a great honor to be mentioned up there with some of those guys.

"Ever since I was little I've been able to hit the ball hard -- out of the ballpark. I don't know why. Quick hands and good reaction, I guess."

Garceau, of Porterfield, Wis., was an all-NCC honorable mention selection as a sophomore defensive back after tying for the league lead with seven interceptions. He finished his career with 14, tied for sixth all time at UMD. The muscled, 6-foot, 200-pounder was known for delivering big hits and could run 40 meters in about 4½ seconds.

Baseball and football teammate Tony Doherty said Garceau has a dry sense of humor but is almost all business when it comes to sports. As a receiver, Doherty often had to go against Garceau in practice.

"Tim is a borderline obsessed weightlifter and is just a super-strong kid. If he got his hands on you, you were pretty much done," Doherty said. "He never gets too emotional, but is a pretty mellow cat -- always even keel. If you look at him, he can be an intimidating guy, but he's the nicest kid I've ever met.

"Tim doesn't really care about his stats, but I hope he breaks the home-run record. I don't have a doubt in my mind he will."

It was football that nearly put the brakes on Garceau's baseball career after he injured an ankle in the Bulldogs' final game of the 2005 season. Garceau began rehab and tried to join the baseball team after winter break, but the high-ankle sprain wasn't getting better. He had damaged cartilage and would need to place the ankle in a cast for a month and missed the season.

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"Last year was tough to sit and watch and not be able to go out there and be with the team," Garceau said. "So this year, it would be nice to go out with a bang."

After a slow start this spring, Garceau is beginning to show the form that earned him All-American honors in 2005. He hit .367 with 13 home runs and a .707 slugging percentage. He also pitched 18 innings on the mound, holding opponents to a .194 batting average.

This year Garceau is hitting .281 with 12 RBIs, eight walks, a .390 on-base percentage and 3-for-3 in stolen-base attempts.

"Tim started slow, but that has a lot to do with him not playing last year," Rients said. "It took him awhile to get his timing down, but he's starting to come on. We're starting to see the real Garceau."

Whether that leads to Garceau getting any Major League Baseball interest remains to be seen. He said he talked to a few professional teams after his All-American season but that dissipated when he didn't play last season.

Garceau has about five weeks to show off the power, foot speed, arm strength and all-around game UMD baseball fans have become accustomed to before he graduates with a degree in industrial engineering.

"The whole UMD athletic experience has been great and I wouldn't have gone anywhere else," he said. "If I get an opportunity to play beyond here, I would definitely give it a shot because baseball is fun and I'd like to keep doing it. But I don't want to waste a year when I could have been starting to build a career in my field."

JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at jnowacki@duluthnews.com .

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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