For the first dozen years of his life, Jake Bergren’s biggest claim to fame was that he lived down the street from Prince in Chanhassen, Minn.
These days, the former St. Charles North baseball and football standout is making a name for himself as a sophomore on the University of Minnesota baseball team.
Bergren spent his early elementary years in Chanhassen, a suburb of Minneapolis.
“I started playing sports for the first time up here,” he recalled. “That’s where it all started. I played hockey for about five years. I started baseball up here. … I still have memories of the hockey days.”
Bergren believes playing hockey at a young age helped him develop a competitive streak that served him well after his family moved to St. Charles. At North, he helped the North Stars achieve unparalleled success on the diamond and the gridiron. The baseball team went 35-4 his junior season and he was the quarterback on a North football team that reached the Class 7A quarterfinals in 2009 before bowing out to eventual state runners-up Glenbard West.
His success in both sports left him in a quandary about which to pursue at the next level.
“Back then, I wasn’t sure which I was going to choose,” Bergren said. “It really came down to what opportunities I was going to get.”
Thanks to the fact that he was also an achiever in the classroom, plenty of colleges offered opportunities, including half of the Ivy League. But Minnesota, which started recruiting Bergren when he represented the Upstate Eight Conference as an outfielder at the annual Stevenson Showcase in 2010, won the recruiting battle.
Bergren, who bats and throws left-handed, played in 34 games for the Gophers as a freshman and led the team with a .364 batting average, albeit in just 55 at-bats. Still, a lot of those plate appearances were important. For example, he was 5 for 11 in a series with Big Ten rival Michigan State.
This season, Bergren has two hits in 18 at-bats.
“This season’s a little bit slower for me than last year,” he said. “Last year, I got some opportunities because of some injuries in the outfield. This year, nobody’s really gone down, and everybody’s been playing well.”
Minnesota is 23-13 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten. The Gophers are gearing up for what they hope will be an extended postseason run.
“We think with the pitching staff we have this year, we have a pretty strong tournament team,“ Bergren says. “It really hinges on the offense. … We’re pretty confident right now.”
Senior outfielder Andy Henkemeyer is hitting .338 with 21 RBIs in 33 games. His graduation will leave an opening in the outfield that Bergren hopes to fill next season.
“I’m really hoping it will be my year,” he said.
He plans on honing his skills this summer by playing in the Northwoods League, a wooden-bat league for college players.
Bergren said he misses the break from baseball that football provided, though he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on one sport.
“It’s still kind of weird to just keep playing baseball,” he said. “There’s nothing to break up the monotony of hitting and fielding and throwing.”
Except, of course, his studies. He’s majoring in organic chemistry.
“I chose a pretty tough major, so the classes are pretty challenging,” Bergren says. “My time-management skills have certainly been tested.”
He said he’s enjoying the challenge and is considering pursuing a doctorate in the field.
When he actually has some free time, playing guitar is one of the leisure activities he enjoys, which ought to please his famous former neighbor, Prince.
“I never met him,” Bergren admits, though he does recall an apocryphal tale of the diminutive singer riding his bicycle past the home of a neighbor, the residence of a young girl who was having her own bike-riding privileges suspended.
“She sees Prince riding down the street,” Bergren laughs, “and says, ‘Mommy, how come that little boy gets to ride his bike, but not me?’”
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To suggest a local college athlete to be featured in an upcoming column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.