NCAA BASEBALL: Muscle memory: Reints powering 2014 Mustangs

MARSHALL – Southwest Mi nnesota State junior Patrick Rients was 20 years old and he swore he had left baseball behind.

Waking up early, going into the garage and being surrounded by spark plugs, wrenches, hammers and oil filters was his world now. At the time, the auto body collison center at Ridgewater College was more to his calling than the baseball diamond there.

“After doing that through spring break, I decided I wanted to do that as a career,” Rients said. “I quit the baseball team and started to go into the shop early.”

Rients played part of his freshman season on the baseball team at Ridgewater College before walking away from the sport before he reached his sophomore year. He had thoughts about returning the next year as he had one more year of eligibility, but felt he wouldn’t be welcomed by the coach.

After graduating from the two year college, Rients entered the workforce and continued to hone his auto body repair skills.

It wasn’t long before the diamond started to call his name once again. This time he answered.

“I decided that that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Rients said. “I started hitting the weight room harder and working on my swing more.”

He would fill his days with mechanic work in Jackson that sometimes didn’t even provide full time hours. Then he would hit the weight room and work on his swing, with no where to show it off until the summertime when he would play for the Jackson Bulls, the amateur baseball team in town.

“I got stuck in that rut,” Rients said. “Then summer ball came around and I was a little happier.”

It was his time with the Bulls that Rients started to remember why he had started playing this game in the first place.

In the 2010-2011 season, he finished with a .336 average that was helped by 39 RBI and seven home runs. He followed that up in the 2011-2012 season with a .405 average, nine home runs and 51 RBI.

While he didn’t have doubts about the baseball part of it, the academic part was another story.

“I hadn’t done actual school work in a long time,” Rients said. “At the time, I wasn’t really ready to do classwork again.”

Rients continued to work for another year at his day job while playing with his amateur team.

By the time he was 22, Rients was sure he wanted to get back into baseball and he had wanted more out of his life then was he was getting.

“A lot of it was just getting out of Lakefield,” Rients said. “I was stuck in a town I couldn’t get out of. I decided that there has to be a change. I have to do something.”

The following year, at age 23 and the 2012-2013 season for the Mustangs, Rients enrolled at the school, but was dealt another blow as baseball eluded him once more.

He didn’t have enough credits transfer over from Ridgewater in order to be able to play baseball at SMSU, so he was forced to take a redshirt in what would be his junior season.

He was allowed to practice with the team, but not play in games.

“You could tell it was bothering him,” Jordon Kontz, one of Rientz’s closest friends on the team. “He was just ready to play. It’s tough to just sit there and know you’re not going to play. What he’s been able to do is pretty special.”

During his redshirt season, Rients had surgery to repair a broke bone in his hand. There is a tendon in the wrist that pulls on the broken bone, something he toughed through during summer ball.

On top of not being able to play in games, he had to adjust to life in the freshman dorms as a 23-year old.

“I didn’t know anybody when I came back, so I had to stay in the dorms,” Rients said. “You’d hear guys playing music at 2 in the morning and all I wanted was for them to go to bed. I couldn’t take it anymore at the time, I wish I could’ve.”

To further his effort of going incognito about how old he really was, he shaved off his full beard and left little to no facial hair. He would grow it back in the winter before moving out of the dorms in the spring semester.

Being back on the diamond for the Mustangs has been both beneficial for Rients and the Mustangs as his designated hitter duties have allowed him to display the power with the swing he had spent so many hours honing.

“It’s been nice,” Rients said. “When you’re in the groove, it’s nice to have a whole series over a weekend. I don’t even really look for a certain pitch. When I start to expect certain pitches, that’s when I end up striking out.”

Rients hit four home runs over a two-game span against Wayne State including one grand slam.

Rients has often been a bright in what have been troubling times for the Mustangs as of late.

SMSU stopped a seven-game losing streak by beating Minnesota-Crookston Friday.

“He’s gotten a lot of hits and a lot of home runs and he’s driven in a lot of runs,” Mustangs coach Paul Blanchard said. “You always think there’s a possibility of an extra base hit with him up and it’s nice to have him up there with guys on base.”

Rients leads the team in every offensive category as he has 12 long balls to go with eight, doubles, five triples and has 37 RBI. His current batting average sits at .368.

His 12 home runs leads the Northern Sun Inetercollegiate Conference while he is also top 20 in batting average, tied for second in triples and top 10 in RBI.

Rients admits he has never been in this kind of a groove for this long as a result of playing more games than summer league ball.

Even when his bat started to heat up to the tune of nine home runs in the past 11 games, he feels it was kind of expected.

“I expect it a little bit,” Rients said. “Over the years I’ve been gathering more power. I didn’t expect four to to go over in one day (against Wayne State), but that’s the way it happened. I’ll take it.”

While Rients, now a 24-year-old junior, still has a soft spot for muscle cars as the owner of a 1972 Nova and a 1947 GMC pickup, his true calling has been found on the diamond.

Rients still has a lot of at-bats left in him and the potential to get even stronger. True to his walk-up song – Light up the Sky by Thousand Foot Crutch – Rients has plenty more opportunities to do just that.