Half a lifetime ago, the diamond was the asphalt circle of an Eagan cul-de-sac.
Baseball marathons were conducted outside of JD Dorgan’s home. Nearly every summer evening, youngsters from around the neighborhood would take turns swinging a plastic bat at a tennis ball. If they were lucky, they would circle the painted bases over and over until it was too dark to see.
Occasionally, Jenna Hoffman would prance over from a couple blocks away and show up the group, otherwise made up of all boys.
“She was probably better than a lot of us,” Dorgan said.
Now, the friendly rivalry has taken a much larger stage. After reuniting at St. Thomas, where Dorgan is a catcher for the baseball team and Hoffman plays shortstop for the softball team, the senior pair is capping off hugely successful collegiate careers in the same impressive way: leading their respective teams to the Division III World Series.
St. Thomas softball opens the national tournament in Tyler, Texas, with Salisbury (Md.) on Thursday, while the Tommies baseball team will play defending national champion Linfield (Ore.) in Appleton, Wis., on Friday.
“It’s kind of cool that our paths have both led us in the same direction and led us to the same place, competing for a national championship,” said Hoffman, whose 79 hits this season are one away from the school season record.
Despite living just a child’s scamper apart in the Hawthorne Woods neighborhood, the two athletes’ courses diverged after those intermittent bouts of street baseball. After attending Faithful Shepherd school together in elementary school, Dorgan left for Dakota Hills in middle school and then chose Eagan High. Hoffman attended Cretin-Derham Hall, carpooling there with Dorgan’s next-door neighbor.
Had they met up again, it would have seemed most likely to be at St. John’s, where both Dorgan’s and Hoffman’s fathers played sports — the former, football, the latter, baseball. But Hoffman never visited the Johnnies’ campus and Dorgan, after falling in love with St. John’s initially, ultimately found the persuading comfort level at St. Thomas.
Those decisions have been validated throughout four years that have been filled with great success individually and with their programs, a combined 50-19 in postseason games during that time. They became close with each other — mingling throughout back-to-back practices — in the process.
The prosperity of Tommies baseball, which won national titles in 2001 and 2009, and softball, which duplicated those feats in 2004 and 2005, is a reflection of just how dominant St. Thomas sports have been across the gamut. In addition to softball, the Tommies won 2013-14 league titles in baseball, men's basketball, men's hockey and women's hockey; and tied for second in football and women's basketball. Ten of St. Thomas’ sports teams have ranked in the top 15 nationally at some point this season.
Dorgan and Hoffman have helped to lead the way for their respective sports. Hoffman, who was just named Division III All-America, is a career .409 hitter and this year leads the team in stolen bases, hits, runs and triples. Dorgan, who has hit or picked up at least one RBI in 19 consecutive games, is batting .333 for his career and is tied for the most RBI this season with 50.
His home run and sacrifice fly Sunday helped send St. Thomas to its second World Series in the past three years with a 9-4 victory over Rose-Hulman. Last time around, in 2012, the Tommies, joined in Appleton, Wis., by several members of the softball team, started out 2-0.
“We kind of felt like we were in the driver’s seat and it was going to be a cake walk,” said Dorgan, named the Most Outstanding Performer in last weekend’s six-team tournament in Illinois. Dorgan needs three hits for 200 in is career.
Ultimately, the baseball team finished third, going 3-2.
This time, the Tommies are hoping things will be different. After watching the softball team eradicate a 4-1 deficit to win 10-4 in a super regional championship game — Hoffman’s two-out, two-run single put them ahead to stay — the baseball team collectively decided to travel to Texas to cheer on their sister program if they didn’t win, much like the ladies had supported them two years earlier.
Instead, the men will attempting to bring a pair of NCAA titles to the school for the first time in the same year in those sports.
Now, when it gets dark, there are bright lights to illuminate the games for Hoffman and Dorgan.
“It’s awesome to finally be in that same position with [the baseball team],” Hoffman said. “I think it definitely attributes a lot to St. Thomas and their sports culture and all their facilities and how St. Thomas is just known for that athletic excellence.”