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Baier set to return for Augustana

COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ends his senior year, but NCAA grants college seniors another year

SPRINGFIELD — Augustana University senior and 2016 Springfield High School graduate Sam Baier has quite the athletic resume.

From a state championship in both wrestling and baseball his senior year of high school to an NCAA Division II national championship in 2018 as a sophomore in college, Baier has accomplished a lot so far. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic ending his senior year of baseball with the Vikings, Baier’s story isn’t over just yet.

With the college baseball season getting canceled in March after the Vikings played just 14 games, senior athletes all over had worries that their final season of college sports would end unfinished.

Baier said the news was like a bad dream.

“At the time I was back in Sioux Falls we were just kind of starting to do online classes when we got word that the season was canceled,” Baier said. “We just got back from our winter trip, and a couple of my roommates were seniors, too, so we kind of just sat there thinking this was a bad dream we were going to wake up from. I didn’t really know what to think, it kind of took a few days.”

Photos courtesy of Jurgens Photography Sam Baier (holding flag, second from the left) was a member of the 2018 Augustana University Division II national championship team.

But the NCAA was quick to respond and extended the eligibility of athletes on spring sports teams by one year.

While this means that Baier, who is majoring in education with a minor in coaching, will have to take classes next spring, he said that he will be student teaching in the fall and wasn’t going to end his college playing career without a full season.

“For me it worked out well because I have to go back to student teach,” Baier said. “Yeah, I’m going back. I can’t finish my career on that — not getting to play and having that piece of closure, whether that’s possibly going on to play pro ball or if that’s, ‘OK, I’m done, let’s hit the real world.’ To have that closure piece is kind of big for most athletes, I think.”

The coronavirus closures and delays have affected Baier, however, when it comes to preparing himself for student teaching in the fall.

“I guess I shouldn’t say it works out well, but it works well that I get to play ball,” Baier said. “Online classes and stuff, that’s fine and all that, I guess, but the testing stuff I have to take before I can student teach — I have to take the practice test and stuff like that before. And right now those centers are closed, so I don’t know when those centers will open back up again. You just kind of play it by ear, so that is a possibility that could push back my student teaching even into the spring, whenever this stuff finally wraps up. It’s just kind of an unknown.”

As far as his baseball career so far, Baier started his freshman year with the Vikings in a big way, hitting .313 with 32 RBIs, 17 doubles, six homers and a triple. He also ended the season as the 2017 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Freshman of the Year.

He followed that season up with a .308 batting average, 58 RBIs, 29 stolen bases, 12 doubles, eight homers and two triples and was also named a 2018 First-Team All-NSIC member. In that sophomore campaign, he was also named a 2018 NSIC Gold Glove Team member, a 2018 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-Region honorable mention and a 2018 NSIC All-Tournament Team member.

His biggest accomplishment in his sophomore year, however, was the Vikings’ 3-2 national championship win over Columbus State (Columbus, Georgia).

“Having the national championship is a big piece of my career,” Baier said. “But looking back on it, I’m still hungry for more. Last year being so close, making the Super Regional and almost making it back to that tournament, you never lose that hunger once you’re an athlete, you just kind of want to keep winning and it’s a passion and love for the sport.”

Last season, Baier hit .288 with 51 RBIs, 39 runs scored, 13 doubles, three homers and a triple. The Vikings ended their season after dropping a pair of games to Central Missouri in the 2019 Central Super Regional.

This season, playing in 13 games, Baier hit .292 with eight RBIs, three doubles, a homer and a triple.

Baier said that before this season got cut short, the team was just getting rolling. The Vikings finished the short 2020 season with a 9-4 overall record.

“I think our team was just starting to roll and kind of become who we were,” Baier said. “We were starting to figure out as a group of guys what we could do. It was a lot of fun what we had going right away there. We went down to the Dominican [Republic], had a cool trip [in January] that was super eye-opening. We got to work in some areas that were not privileged at all. We were donating bats and gloves for them to use, just seeing that already before this happened that, ‘Don’t take anything for granted,’ and then this [cancelation] happened. I think we had a good thing going and we just didn’t get to see what happens from here out.”

Right now, Baier is back in Springfield trying to stay healthy, remain active and do what we can to keep a positive attitude.

“My dad owns an excavating company here in town, so I’ve just been kind of helping him with physical labor before his work really starts up now that the frost is going out,” Baier said. “And at the high school, we put up a cage over in that shop, so I can hit there and throw into the net, just to stay loose baseball-wise. And I’ve been taking up running. I never really ran a whole lot before other than sports-related. So I’ve been running to stay active and just kind of stay positive, keep an outlook, everything in the media is so negative right now with this virus stuff. It’s just kind of a way to better myself each and every day and stay motivated. It’s tough to stay motivated when you’re locked in the house all the time.”

But despite the tough times right now, Baier is taking things one day at a time and hopes to make one more run at a national championship in 2021.

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