CEDAR RAPIDS – What could have been. What can be.
Iowa baseball teams are motivated by the first sentence. The Hawkeyes were 10-5 and played well when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly stopped their and everyone else’s season last spring.
With the return of so many players, you get the feeling that there is real optimism when it comes to the second sentence.
“I think we’re in a great place,” said Iowa junior infielder and Iowa City West grad Izaya Fullard during Iowa’s virtual media day via Zoom.
“Last season, I think it’s no secret that we were robbed of what we shot for,” said senior catcher Austin Martin. “Everyone who has the common goal in mind, the opportunity to come back and just a kind of hunt that dreams together one last time is enormous … We did not want baseball to be taken from us on someone else’s terms. We wanted it to be on our terms. ”
Iowa has 27 returning letter men and loses only two from the 2019-20 team. The NCAA allowed everyone another year of qualifying due to the pandemic, and that will make this Hawkeye team and everyone else in the Big Ten Conference so much stronger.
“Just the opportunity to go out and play again is what drives these guys,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “They all felt that last year we could have something special. Therefore, they chose to return. We have to go out and play. It’s a year where we’re having a great time with our ball club because we have so many boys left. But I think everyone else feels the same. The teams we play, are all up, and it will be a super talented league from top to bottom. ”
Iowa has a 44 game route only by Big Ten opponents, and begins next weekend in Round Rock, Texas, against Michigan. It will be a series of four games.
The home opening is scheduled for March 19 against Nebraska. COVID will almost certainly require some time changes when things go after.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to go straight into the Big Ten,” said senior pitcher outfielder Trenton Wallace. “I think we have prepared well enough for where we will be a top player in the league this year.”
“This year is going to boil down to the survival of the fittest,” Martin said. “Whoever can survive the longest while playing good or decent baseball will be the ones who come out on top.”
Iowa tackled a COVID outbreak last fall and again recently, when four players (starting midfielder Ben Norman and pitcher Drew Irvine, Jack Guzek and Jack Radford) tested positive for the second time, forces them to isolate themselves and the team to shut down for a week.
Training resumed on Tuesday, with Norman, Irvine, Guzek and Radford released on Friday from solitary confinement at a local hotel.
They will not be available to practice or play again until they undergo mandate checks on the heart.
“We have at least managed to get back to normal,” Heller said. “When we get the guys back, we should be there. But it definitely set us back, and it set us back in a very tough time. ”
Top rated Jack Dreyer will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John’s elbow surgery. Heller said that Wallace, Irvine, sophomore Duncan Davitt and junior Cam Baumann should be rotation members, with first-year students Ty Langenberg and Will Semb pushing hard at the start.
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Seniors Grant Leonard and Trace Hoffman will lead the bullpen, with Leonard the closer. Fullard hit .400 in 15 games last season and leads a lineup that also includes senior outfielder Zeb Adreon (.333) and first-year baseman Peyton Williams (.298), among others.
“This is the toughest schedule we’ve ever played. Every single game is a Big Ten game, every single game counts. All 44 count. These first two weekends count in the table. So yes, it’s going crazy, ”said Heller. “These guys worked so hard last year, and we were in such a good place. For it to end, as it was for everyone, it was super disappointing and super sad. Just so glad the guys found a way to be able to come back. We’re missing some of the guys, not all of them made it. But the majority did, and getting that kind of leadership back was super important, super big for us. “
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