The Park Center baseball team spent the last few years with Dan Hansen and Kyle Schnobrich as the team’s core players.
Hansen and Schnobrich led the team by example, and often worked to help push the team to new heights while helping the program’s younger players develop.
After the two graduated following the 2016 season, the Pirates wee left searching for a new core.
Enter Mitch Maier, Riley Pederson and Tanner Stein.
The sophomore trio grew up playing together and the three bonded over the game of baseball.
“We have been going to the same school since kindergarten,” Stein said. “Mitchell and I started playing together and then Riley joined us during 11-year-olds and ever since then we have all been close.
“We all play winter ball together and have as much fun there as we have here.”
“I kind of met them through baseball, because I was playing in the lower group,” Pederson added. “I came up and I met these guys and I bonded with them because we went to the same school and we had a lot of the same classes.”
Maier, Pederson and Stein are entering their fourth year of playing together, and, in the time they have spent together so far, they have learned to depend on one another through the good and bad times.
“If one of us has a bad game, we know one or both of these guys will have a good game to pick us up,” Stein said. “If Mitchell gets out or I get out, about 90 percent of the time the person behind us will pick up a hit.”
The three also know that they must hold each other accountable, too.
“It’s not just the nice parts, we get on each other, too,” Pederson said. “We know there are no hard feelings afterwards, we play the game, do what we can for the team and at the end of the day, we’re all still friends.”
While the three have been viewed as top players throughout their time at Park Center, they say that they haven’t felt any additional pressure to perform well at the varsity level.
“I don’t feel any pressure from our teammates or coaches,” Pederson said. “You’re just kind of expected to go the extra mile, but nobody pressures you into it.”
If anything, having good friends alongside them has made the experience easier.
“[Having Maier and Pederson around] takes the pressure off of you,” Stein said. “It doesn’t feel like the spotlight is on you, even if you don’t have your stuff that day these two can pick it up for you.”
While the trio knows it has a long way to go before its leadership can draw comparisons to that of Hansen and Schnobrich, Maier, Pederson and Stein are determined to turn the Park Center program around.
“[Hansen and Schnobrich] were great leaders, for sure,” Maier said. “You just want to pick up where they left off and keep building from there.
“We have a long way to go to get to where some teams’ standards are, but we can get there for sure.”
Stein remembers wanting to better himself so he could impress players like Hansen and Schnobrich.
“When I was younger I looked up to Dan and Kyle and I wanted to play up to their level and prove to them it was important to me that they thought I would wind up at this level,” Stein said. “I found myself wanting to play to my absolute best and I hope to be that role model for these younger kids.”
Park Center head coach Nathan Johnson has built up his team’s depth, and would now like to see his team begin to show its leadership capabilities, and he knows that starts with Maier, Pederson and Stein.
“I think really the next part we would like to see from our players going forward is learning how to lead,” Johnson said. “As you grow you learn the dos and don’ts when it comes to how to act in public and when you’re asking young men to lead and speak up and not just lead by example, it is a challenge.
“We want to build a team where everyone is accountable, everyone has a voice and everyone can say what’s on their mind, be it before a game, after a game or during a game. We want to rely on players that have played up more to be those leaders, not only on the field but off the field.”
“I believe those three are certainly capable,” Johnson added. “They all have certain qualities and different personalities among the three, they keep learning how to work together and communicate, they don’t have to do it alone and can each take a different aspect of the team and they can incorporate the other players so nobody is left out.”
Despite Maier, Pederson and Stein’s desire to form a new core, they know they can’t lead Park Center on their own.
“Some of the younger kids will have to step into the shoes of the seniors that leave,” Stein said. “You have to fill in big holes where we need.
“We have five or six players that really started the whole season, he had some guys step up from JV that were a big part of the team by the end of the year.”
“We have to play our game and hope they see what we’re doing, putting all our effort into each practice and each game, and hope they catch on,” Pederson added. “We have to build up from there.”
Follow Sun Post sports editor Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris and on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.