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A Change of Pace: From a Military Institute to Madison

The sun rises over the Shenandoah Valley in the winter months, shining on the small town of Lexington, Vir. and most of the valley is calm and quiet. But on the campus of Virginia Military Institute, there is a plethora of activity as the Cadets are already well into their daily routine; a routine characterized by discipline and obedience.

By 7:00 a.m., the Cadets have already prepared themselves for their morning formation and uniform inspection, having showered, shaved and shined their shoes in preparation for their daily march prior to breakfast.

Such is the daily routine for V.M.I.’s J.J. Hollenbeck and Kelly Sweppenhiser in their months away at college. However the summer months of 2005 have allowed the two Cadets the opportunity to escape the discipline of the nation’s first state military college and enjoy life on the baseball diamond as members of the Madison Mallards.

Arriving at the end of May, it didn’t take long for the ballplayers to realize the lifestyle in Madison, Wis. is in sharp contrast to Lexington, Vir., and after just a month in the Capital city, the two Cadets are making the most of their time away from “The Post.?

“Here it is all about baseball,” Hollenbeck said. “You don’t have to worry about much besides heading out to the ballpark and putting forth your best effort for the fans. There are a lot more daily distractions at school; here it is just more laid back.”

“Its nice knowing I don’t have to get up at seven for formation,” Hollenbeck added. “It’s just a weight off my shoulders knowing that I can concentrate on baseball and that has made this so much fun.”

With daily formations, uniform inspections, long days of class and even longer nights of studying done until the fall, Hollenbeck and Sweppenhiser are not used to the additional leisure time that they have in Madison. However, the increase in free time hasn?t kept them from establishing a routine in Madison.

Taking the place of the morning routine of formation, breakfast and class at V.M.I., the two Cadets have established a new routine at the Duck Pond, cleaning and lending a helping hand to ensure that the stadium is ready when gates open for that day’s game.

“It’s kinda funny how I got into a routine so quickly here,” Sweppenhiser said. “I guess it’s just like at V.M.I. in that sense. If I don’t get into a routine I just feel strange, so even on the road I still get up at eight, eat breakfast and take care of anything that needs to be done.”

Their daily routine has allowed the two juniors to take care of business on the field as well, helping lead the Mallards to a 15-9 record and a spot atop the Northwoods League South Division. Hollenbeck has been solid on the mound for head coach C.J. Thieleke’s squad, compiling a 4-0 record with a 2.36 ERA in a dual role as starter and reliever. Sweppenhiser meanwhile has collected 18 hits through the first 24 games and leads the Mallards with two home runs to go along with his 10 RBI.

Although their surroundings are much different, their success on the field comes as little surprise after the impressive seasons the two had at V.M.I. However, the change in lifestyle is something that both Hollenbeck and Sweppenhiser have embraced. As the summer wears on, they are becoming more familiar with the city, enjoying Madison more and more everyday.

“Madison has been great so far,” Sweppenhiser said. “We went down to State Street once and everyone was just having a great time, enjoying life and the people were just really friendly. It’s just a great college atmosphere which is just a lot different from Lexington.”

Lexington, Vir. has a population of just over 7,000 people, but the college teammates have had no problem adapting to a bigger city. It was their intention to play together this summer, and Madison has been a great fit for the college teammates.

They don’t always get to spend a lot of time at the ballpark together as Hollenbeck is a member of the pitching staff and Sweppenhiser a position player, but that has come as a separation they have both welcomed. It has allowed them to branch out and establish relationships with other members of the team, something that both players acknowledge as an added bonus.

“I meet with the infielders all the time and J.J. is with the pitchers. That just makes it easier when we all come together that we have our own relationships,” Sweppenhiser said. “The guys have been awesome. It’s amazing how their aren’t any egos on this team, you really can’t tell the difference between guys who go to a big-time Division I school and the guys that go to a community college.”

Hollenbeck maintains that the attitude of the players is a testament to the coaching staff,
especially first year head coach C.J. Thieleke.

?C.J. is exactly what a player would want in a summer league coach,? Hollenbeck said. ?He knows how to bring us together and keep things loose around the clubhouse.?

However, as much as the two Cadets are enjoying the summer, the inevitable return to Lexington is something they remain excited about, after all, it is where they have already spent important years of their life. In the end, they are just glad to have had the opportunity to play within a system that has allowed them to enjoy a little time away from “The Post.”