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The Tjaden family — sisters Madison (left) and Taylor (right) and their cousin Lauren — grew up playing softball together. The three used to train in Lauren’s basement before their fathers Brad and Bruce Tjaden purchased an unused part of a building in Minonk and converted it into a softball practice facility that is now used by the Fieldcrest High School team and area ASA squads. NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus
MINONK — Softball is more than just a game for the Tjaden family. It’s become a way of life.
With five female cousins — three of whom play on this year’s Fieldcrest softball team — and no male cousins, the love of the sport has overtaken the family. “Softball is the one thing that we all have in common,” Fieldcrest junior first baseman Madison Tjaden said.
Starting in the basement of Fieldcrest sophomore pitcher Lauren Tjaden nearly a decade ago, the Tjadens’ passion for the sport has grown over the years, evolving from town softball to travel softball to junior high softball and now high school softball.
“Whenever we get together as a family for an event, softball is usually talked about at least once,” said Fieldcrest senior outfielder Taylor Tjaden, Madison’s older sister and Lauren’s cousin. “We’ll talk about the season, who we are playing and how to improve.”
Back in the day in Lauren’s concrete basement, the Tjadens constructed a makeshift batting cage and pitched to a square on the wall that simulated a strike zone.
However, after many shattered light bulbs and as the girls grew, the facility became too small, which nearly 10 years ago caused their fathers Brad and Bruce Tjaden to purchase an unused part of a building in Minonk and convert it into a softball hitting and pitching facility.
The facility — located in downtown Minonk — is traditionally used once a week by the family and also is used by the Fieldcrest softball team and other local summer softball squads.
“We practiced in our basement and it just wasn’t working out anymore as we were getting older so we knew we needed more,” Lauren said.
Together, the three Tjadens are a vital part of this year’s Lady Knights’ squad. Combined, the three have nine years of varsity experience and all play key roles of this year’s team.
A four-year varsity player, senior center fielder Taylor Tjaden is a two-time NewsTribune All-Area First-Team player. A team captain who will play at IVCC, Taylor was third in the area last season with a .493 batting average and also scored 25 runs and had six doubles.
Junior Madison Tjaden is a three-year varsity player and two-time NT All-Area pick who recently returned from a sprained ankle. Last year, the first baseman — who has never played on a softball team without cousin Lauren — hit .406 with three home runs and had an area-best 30 RBIs.
Sophomore Lauren Tjaden is a second-year pitcher for Fieldcrest. After seeing some action in the circle last season, this spring she’s excelled as the team’s ace as she is 4-1 this spring.
“They bring a lot of expertise because they have been playing the game for a long time, as have a lot of the girls on the team,” second-year Fieldcrest coach Laurie Lorton said. “They’ve played a lot of summer ball, and they add a lot of strength and charisma to the team.”
They’ve also made the Lady Knights a family affair.
“It’s been so much fun,” Madison said of playing with Taylor and Lauren. “I’m scared to play after high school or with any other team without Lauren or Taylor because we’ve been playing with each other for so long. It’ll be hard.”
Until then, the Tjadens are looking to lift Fieldcrest to only its second regional title in program history and hopefully more this postseason.
“It’s been a lot of fun because a lot of us (on the team) have played together in summer ball so we all know each other and are finally coming together as one,” Madison said. “We really want to get farther in the postseason this year.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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