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Fairmont’s Baarts: A day in the ‘new normal’

TAKING IT IN STRIDE — Fairmont sprinter Caden Baarts (center) matches Jordan’s Marlon Wiley (right) stride-for-stride taking a turn during the 200-meter dash at last spring’s MSHSL Section 2A track & field meet in Mankato. While Baarts’ senior track season was wiped out by the current coronavirus pandemic, he will continue his athletic career as a member of the Concordia University football team in St. Paul this fall. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — Caden Baarts has evolved into a household name pertaining to excellence in high school athletics throughout south-central Minnesota.

The sure-handed junior cornerback pocketed four interceptions and recorded 73 tackles to help engineer Fairmont football team’s march to Class AAA state runner-up honors in the 2018 Prep Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium.

After a winter hiatus, the junior sprinter anchored the Cardinals’ fifth-place 4×200-meter relay showing at the 2019 Minnesota State High School League Class A state track meet en route to a share of 12th place in the team standings at Hamline University.

Everything continued to fall into place for the hard-working Baarts during his senior year.

The 2019 South Central Silver District football player of the year powered the Fairmont Cardinals to the Section 3AAA championship game for a fifth consecutive season on Nov. 2.

The 2019 Sentinel All-Area tri-player of the year then played a key role in guiding the South All-Stars to a victory over the North in the Minnesota Football Showcase Game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 6.

Two months later, the hard-hitting Baarts signed a national letter of intent to continue his football career at Concordia University in St. Paul.

The part-time starter on the basketball court then helped steer the Cardinals into the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game en route to a 17-10 overall record on March 7.

Just one week later, however, Fairmont’s 2020 track & field co-captain and his teammates had the brakes slammed on their spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I could not have imagined that a virus would cut short my senior season,” said Baarts, who shared Fairmont’s annual pentathlon crown with Josh Heinze only hours prior to Minnesota’s moratorium on athletics on March 13.

“We would have been competing in the sub-section today if the shutdown hadn’t happened,” Baarts said in reference to this year’s Section 2A, Sub-Section 5 track & field meet originally scheduled for Thursday in Mapleton.

So, how would Baarts have prepared — in pre-pandemic time — for the first stage of the road to the 2020 MSHSL’s state track & field meet 48 hours ago?

“Wake up, shower, maybe grab an egg sandwich for breakfast on the way to school,” said Baarts, who captured first-place honors in the open 100 at last year’s Sentinel Relays, Big South Conference and Sub-Section 5 meets to complement gold-medal showings in the open 200 at the Sentinel Relays and sub-section.

Although the senior speedster does not consider himself superstitious, he does have one ritual in preparing for competition day — wearing the same sweat pants.

“The sweats belonged to my (older) brother (Carter). They’re actually gray Fairmont football travel bottoms. I’ve been wearing them ever since last year. I guess they give me my swag,” Caden said with a laugh.

After completing his academic courses that sandwich a quick lunch, Baarts would collect his track gear and find a seat for the bus ride to Mapleton.

“Listen to the same play list of music on my AirPods while I’m riding the bus. I usually don’t talk a lot to my teammates during the trip, but I like to think about each race I’m competing in that day. What I need to focus on, etc.,” Baarts said in reference to his prep time.

“Caden finished fourth in the 200 at sections last year, and held the fastest returning time this year,” said Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk. “I believe he had a good chance to qualify for state in both sprints (including the open 100) and as part of a relay or two.

“Our 4×2 of Hudson (Artz), Dylan (Kennedy), Andrew (Moeller) and Caden ran the third-fastest time (1:31.74) in school history in placing fifth at state last year.”

In retrospect, Baarts said he’ll miss running the two cool-down laps with his teammates after each postseason competition.

“That’s a part of this program’s tradition, but it didn’t happen this season due to the shutdown,” said Baarts.

So what’s daily life been like for Baarts in the ‘new normal’ pandemic world?

“Wake up, sign in to school (online) by 8:30 a.m., get (distance-learning) classes completed and maybe grab something to eat somewhere in between,” said the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder. “After getting the academics done, grab lunch. I’ve been trying a protein diet — yogurt, eggs, cheese, etc. I’m not eating as much in bulk either and trying to get away from snacks. I’ve actually gained about 15 pounds of muscle since the quarantine because of the diet and working out.”

So, where does personal hygiene fit into the mix?

“A shower? Well … not in the morning, but I do take one after lifting at Hudson’s house or working out in general,” Baarts said with a chuckle. “They (the Artz family) have a nice setup in their basement and are nice to let me work out there.

“I also try to run two miles a day at least three or four times a week to maintain my conditioning. In the afternoon, I usually try to go to a field with a small number of guys to run some routes because I need to stay sharp for the upcoming fall at Concordia.”

While taking the time to have a sitdown supper with his mother Carri and sister Kennedy during the week, Baarts has Zoom meetings every Tuesday with the Concordia University coaching staff to watch film and learn his future football program’s defensive schemes and overall philosophy.

“Being able to do that online is a huge help since they (Concordia coaching staff) want me to play free safety or strong safety for them,” said Baarts.

Now, Baarts will take finals this coming week before he and his fellow 2020 seniors make history when they become the first-ever virtual graduates of Fairmont High School via online streaming on Sunday, June 7.

Unfortunately, Baarts’ “what-could-have-been” senior track season will only exist in a virtual reality of its own, created in the far reaches of one’s imagination.

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