Their time together on the Winona State University baseball team was brief, but it was a rewarding experience for senior Chad Herbst and his younger brother, Nick.
The two had not been together on the same team since their McFarland High School days. Winona State opened its 2020 baseball season in February. The team won five of its first eight games before dropping six of seven to fall to a record of 6-9.Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled all spring college sports throughout the nation.
Yet, Nick’s first year on the team as a redshirt freshman showed he was ready for NCAA Division 2 baseball. Before the season was shut down, he hit .304 with two triples, seven RBIs and three runs scored. He will have four more years of eligibility, while Chad graduated last month and will pursue his master’s degree in secondary English education.
But for the two brothers, it was a fun, abbreviated season where they played side-by-side in the outfield with Chad manning left field and Nick positioned in center. The same held true in the starting lineup as Chad batted fourth followed by Nick in fifth.
“It was nice to have the opportunity again. It was just too short,” Nick said.
Chad said he is probably speaking for other baseball players when he says the premature ending of the season has been difficult.
“It is frustrating and disappointing at the same time. We had a good team this year with a lot of upperclassmen,” Chad said. “This was a year we were excited for.”
Winona State had just returned to Minnesota after playing a series of games in Florida when fears over the virus ended the 2020 season.
“As soon as we got back from Florida, everything kind of blew up,” Nick said.
From Red Bird to Warrior
Nick and Chad both thought their single year on the McFarland High School baseball team would be their only one. But Nick’s college baseball aspirations took an unfortunate turn before the start of the 2019 season. He signed a letter of intent to play Division 1 baseball at Illinois State. Things were on the upswing in Nick’s senior year at McFarland when he was named to the All-Rock Valley Conference first team after leading the Spartans with a .472 batting average, 34 hits and just two strikeouts in 66 plate appearances.
However, before Nick could put on his uniform and play for the Red Birds in Normal, Illinois, the Illinois State baseball coaching staff was fired. Nick was suddenly the odd man out. That’s when Chad intervened and encouraged him to transfer to Winona State.
“When he decided to transfer because he was no longer on the team at Illinois State, I told my coaches about it initially, and they said they were comfortable with recruiting Nick in a sense,” Chad said. “They said they were glad to have him on the team. It took off from there.
“I knew what he could do as a baseball player if he had to jump in at center field at the beginning of the year with no previous college baseball experience.”
It was a new lease on life for Nick, who eagerly anticipated his first season in 2020 with the Warriors. Chad encouraged his brother to work more in the weight room.
“I wanted him to get stronger so he could become the best baseball player possible,” Chad said.
Nick said the results of his weightlifting have improved his strength and stability on the playing field. However, adjusting to the pitching and hitting of college baseball has been a learning experience.
“It’s definitely been a leap to go from high school to college,” Nick said. “The pitching and the hitting – there is a remarkable difference.”
Jerry Herbst taught his sons a lot about baseball before the game would take them into the high school and college ranks.
Involved in just about every aspect of the game including umpiring, scorekeeping, and public address announcing, he would play catch with his sons, hit ground balls to them in the backyard and provide some advice on their mechanics. The brothers say their father would do anything to help make them into better baseball players.
With Chad completing his college baseball career, Nick – a communications major with four more years of eligibility – is hopeful Winona State can compete in the 2021 season against stronger teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Augustana has been one of the conference’s stronger teams in recent years along with Minnesota State Mankato.
“Hopefully, we can deal with the top teams from the conference every year,” Nick said. “I definitely think we have the talent on the roster over the next few years to compete for conference.”