March 13, 2020 marked a turning point in both the academic and athletic year. Academics quickly shifted online and athletes left their seasons and teams behind. Spring sports teams such as baseball were left uncertain when or if their next competitive game would occur.
Various summer collegiate leagues took the necessary steps and precautions to play baseball during the pandemic including the Northwoods League and the Coastal Plains League. Local leagues aided players in limiting travel and in-person interactions.
Allegheny baseball players, John Malagise, ‘23, and Tyler Hettich, ‘21, were not exposed to COVID-19 while playing on their summer baseball teams. Malagise explained how his team was able to play in a safe and enjoyable manner.
“We never touched the other teams’ hands, we just tried to keep to ourselves, and stayed safe,” Malagise said. (Coach) Sean Manning really did a great job because we did not have any COVID-19 issues.”
Many summer baseball teams were forced to shut down mid-season because a player, coach or staffer tested positive for COVID-19. Continuing leagues took extra precautions including not participating in handshakes to limit contact with others.
Summer baseball leagues took these preventative measures because the leagues exist as a training mechanism. In each summer league, the best players compete head-to-head with one another. For the players, having a chance to prove oneself in a summer league is a win-win situation; players face talented baseball players, and a good season can give them more opportunities to play at school or upper levels of baseball competition.
Allegheny Baseball Head Coach Brandon Crum was less worried about how his players performed during the summer; rather, he was more focused on his players having opportunities to play.
“I didn’t care about if they batted zero or batted .400,” Crum said. “I wanted them to go out and play the game for their own sanity and their own health.”
Playing sports is an integral part of many people’s lives, according to Crum. Thus, Crum believes that having a chance to play baseball this summer boosted the morale of his players.
“(Playing baseball) was important for their psyche and their mental health,” Crum said. “I think this was huge in their ability to cope with what just happened to them in terms of being sent home from college.”
Leaving college early was also disappointing to first-years who missed their first season at college, while many seniors had to abruptly say goodbye to their teammates and play their last competitive game. In other instances, players were trying to recover from injury, and missed most, if not all, of the shortened spring season. Hettich broke his hand and did not have a chance to return to the team. Hettich said that this made him more eager to play baseball this summer.
“Being able to play in the summer helped me get back into the swing of things and making sure that my hand was okay,” Hettich said. “Without that chance, my next live at-bat would not be until we are allowed to intersquad (at Allegheny).”
Nearly everyone on the Gators’ roster was able to play baseball this summer. Oftentimes, collegiate baseball leagues will recruit players from the same school, and these players become teammates on their summer ball team. Players such as Malagise, who was unable to play much during his freshman year because of COVID-19, had another opportunity to bond with his Gator teammates.
“We had so much fun,” Malagise said. “We had a lot more bonding time that we missed out on in the spring.”
Hettich was the lone Allegheny Gator on his local baseball team, whereas Malagise had over five Gators on his team. As with any sports team, teammates will face each other in practice. At Allegheny, there are widespread competitions and games between teammates that happen during Blue and Gold weekend, which tends to bring out a lot of excitement and school spirit. Thus, Hettich was eager to play against his fellow Gator teammates when facing their summer baseball team.
“It felt a lot like (Blue and Gold weekend), except I was the only guy to back myself up on the other side,” said Hettich. “It was a lot of fun. My favorite games of the summer were against them.”
In a year filled with lots of unknowns, for a brief season, many Allegheny baseball players including Hettich and Malagise experienced a sense of normalcy; bonding and having friendly rivalries with teammates, and playing baseball. Though a spring 2021 season is uncertain, there is hope and optimism among players because many summer league teams found a way to play baseball throughout the pandemic.