Gophers’ Negen can catch foul tips and give fowl tips

Sarah Mitchell

Blomkest, Minn., is well-known for turkey farming. But one day it might be known for more than supplying the country with Thanksgiving dinner.
If the catcher of Minnesota’s baseball team keeps improving at his current rate, the town of less than 200 people might be associated with a sports hero.
Sophomore Jeremy Negen grew up on farm about five miles outside of Blomkest and spent the last summer farming fowl.
“Jeremy is from Blomkest. That’s all you need to know,” volunteer assistant coach J.T. Bruett said. “What more do you need to know?”
Blomkest, or “Turkeytown, Minnesota,” as Adam Horton refers to it, might be responsible for the catcher’s sudden surge of offensive power against Illinois on Sunday. Negen was the game’s hero as he hit a two-run home run in the 12th inning to secure a Gopher victory. The long ball was his first.
“The reason he is so good at hitting is because he was a turkey farmer back home,” Horton said.
Catcher Jeremy Beaulieu was quick to finish Horton’s thought and explain where Negen learned to swing with such force.
“He goes home and takes hacks at the chickens,” Beaulieu said.
While many guys on the team joke around about the event, saying that it was the fastest they had ever seen the catcher run around the bases, Negen said taking the ball deep was definitely the most memorable moment in his young career.
“You couldn’t have picked a better time for it to happen,” Negen said. “I am just glad we won. We needed that one.”
Were it not for a change of plans, however, the scene might not have happened. Negen was planning on going to a junior college until the spring of his senior year in high school. Gophers assistant coach Rob Fornasiere nabbed Negen just in time, thanks to a recommendation from the junior college coach.
While Negen considers himself a small-town boy and plans to move to a rural area after graduation, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play ball at a Big Ten school.
“I said to myself, ‘I have to try this,'” Negen said. “If it doesn’t work out I could try something else, transfer out. This was a chance to play Division I ball, so I had to take it.”
So far it has worked out far better than expected, although Negen is still adjusting to performing at this level after being mostly a bench player last year.
Gaining more experience will be a plus, Negen said, because the step from high school ball to the college level is enormous.
“I think it was easier easing into it, but I think last year was kind of hard watching all the time and not being able to help,” Negen said.
Pitching coach Mike Dee said Negen was a nervous wreck last season. But Dee said Negen has since become confident in himself as a player, allowing Dee to become confident in him as the receiving end of the battery.
“I like the way he thinks. He does a good job of thinking through the games,” Dee said. “There have been a number of games this year where I have called a pitch, but I gave him the wrong sign not realizing it, and he knew that it wasn’t a pitch that I would throw in that situation. That has been impressive.”
The coaches are not the only ones who feel confident in the ability of the man behind the plate. Minnesota’s pitching staff is looking forward to throwing to Negen for the next two seasons.
“I love throwing to the kid. He is a good receiver. His framing makes me look real good,” pitcher Ben Birk said. “He keeps you under control whenever the game starts talking to you. He will come out and calm you down. He comes out and says stupid things.”
Pitcher Dan McGrath provided an example:
“There was one game where (Dee) came to the mound and said, ‘Don’t do it yet.’ Jeremy said, ‘I don’t know what he’s talking about. I am just a catcher. Do you know what he is talking about when he says “yet?” Well, good, that makes one of us.’ And he just walked off.”
While his wit may be quick, his legs are not. But Matt Scanlon is not complaining.
“He is the only other guy on the team slower than me,” Scanlon said.
Negen has two full seasons left before he walks away — literally — from Minnesota’s program. In talking to Negen, it is apparent he just enjoys the game.
The guy who often takes advantage of student night at the Metrodome said the best part of playing baseball has been playing in top-notch ball parks around the country, especially Siebert Field.
“Sitting out there, I never thought that would happen,” Negen said. “I came to a couple of games on my own when I was younger. I couldn’t fathom the stadium then and to now actually play there everyday, I kind of take that for granted.”