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Rick Houston | | May 29, 2014

Eric Peterson helps lead Minnesota State-Mankato after picking baseball over hockey

  Eric Peterson has a .313 average with four homers, 33 RBI and 53 runs.

CARY, N.C. -- Baseball is well known, if not notorious, for its leisurely pace.
Watch a game, and it’s a cycle of casual movement that only once in a while is interrupted by a few moments of action. The pitcher wipes his hand on his pants leg and tugs at his cap, while at the same time in the batter’s box, the hitter gives his helmet a pat and then levels his bat once or twice or ten times.
Chatter drifts in from fielders, both dugouts and the stands. If a pitch is taken for a ball or strike or fouled off, or even after the ball is put into play, the routine starts all over again. It’s all part of the game’s beauty and mystique.
And then there’s hockey, which combines grace and violence with virtually nonstop action. There’s almost always something taking place on the ice, and if spectators happen to blink, they’re likely to miss something important.

The sports are just about as polar opposite as it is possible to be, but in the end, the chance to compete is actually the one common denominator. Those are the worlds known by many a kid from Minnesota, baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter.
Eric Peterson was once one of them, and his approach to the games boiled down to this.
“If you have a bad shift in hockey, you can go out there and hit somebody the next shift and you can get everything out,” he began. “In baseball, you have to stay level headed. You have to stay even throughout the game. You can’t have that next shift, because the next at bat’s going to maybe be a couple of innings later. You have to stay even keel.”
Peterson, whose father Tom played hockey at Minnesota State-Mankato from 1982 to 1985, was a star on the ice at Eagan High School. It was one of the best programs in the state, but he had a choice to make once he graduated.
He picked baseball and wound up as this year’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Top Newcomer with a .303 batting average as Minnesota State-Mankato’s starting second baseman. He’s happy with the choice, as well he should be.
“I could’ve played DIII (hockey) in Minnesota or I could’ve played junior hockey,” said Peterson. “I made the choice to play baseball. I like either sport. Whatever season I’m in, I like the sport. I ended up being better at baseball. I wanted to stay competitive, and that was the best way to do it. I love the game.”
Hitless games at the plate in Saturday’s loss to Seton Hill and a rematch victory against the Griffins on Wednesday bookended a stellar game at the plate against St. Thomas Aquinas on Monday. Peterson stroked three singles in three official plate appearances and was hit by a pitch.
After the opening game loss, the Mavericks’ 6-1 win against the Spartans kept them in contention for the national championship.
Although Peterson ultimately opted for baseball, Minnesota State-Mankato head coach Matt Magers is sure the young player still has some hockey in his blood.
“If you watch Eric play, he’s got good hands,” said Magers. “I think a lot of hockey players do, but also, he’s got that gritty instinct of being able to read a ball in the dirt and taking the extra base. He’s just one of those gritty type of ballplayers that’s not afraid to get his uniform dirty.”
Once Peterson found his groove early in the season, he started edging his way up higher and higher in the batting order to the point where he’s now the team’s leadoff hitter.
“When he first started this year, you could see him maybe getting too emotional and letting emotions get the best of him,” added Magers . “But, honestly, he’s one of the biggest keys we’ve had as far as our team really being able to hit their stride.
“Early in the year, he would get up to the plate and almost be too anxious, like he wanted to hit somebody in hockey. Now, he’s learned to kind of let that go and take a deep breath. Baseball’s a game where you have to let things come to you a little bit. Certainly, he’s been able to do that.”

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