116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - What could have been. What could be.
The Iowa baseball team is motivated by that first sentence. The Hawkeyes were 10-5 and playing well when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly put a halt to their and everyone else's season last spring.
With the return of so many players, you get the sense there is real optimism when it comes to that second sentence.
'I think we're in a really good 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 we were robbed of what we were shooting for,” said senior catcher Austin Martin. 'Everyone having that common goal in mind, the opportunity to come back and just kind of chase that dream together one last time is huge ... We didn't want baseball to be taken away from us on somebody else's terms. We wanted it to be on our terms.”
Iowa has 27 returning lettermen, losing only two from the 2019-20 team. The NCAA allowed everyone another year of eligibiliy because of the pandemic, and that will make this Hawkeye team and everyone else in the Big Ten Conference that much stronger.
'Just the opportunity to go out and play again is what is driving these guys,” said Iowa Coach Rick Heller. 'They all felt like last year we could have had something special. That's why they chose to come back. We have to go out and play. It's a year where we feel really good about our ballclub because we have so many guys back. But I think everybody else feels the same way. The teams we are playing, everybody is up, and it's going to be a super talented league from top to bottom.”
Iowa has a 44-game schedule of Big Ten opponents only, beginning next weekend at Round Rock, Texas, against Michigan. That'll be a four-game series.
The home opener is slated for March 19 against Nebraska. COVID almost certainly will necessitate some schedule changes as things go along.
'I think it's a great opportunity for us to go right into Big Ten,” said senior pitcher-outfielder Trenton Wallace. 'I think we've prepared well enough to where we're going to be a top contender in the league this year.”
'This year is going to boil down to survival of the fittest,” Martin said. 'Who can survive the longest while playing good or decent baseball are going to be the ones that come out on top.”
Iowa dealt with a COVID outbreak last fall and again recently, as four players (starting center fielder Ben Norman and pitchers Drew Irvine, Jack Guzek and Jack Radford) tested positive for a second time, forcing them to isolate and the team to shut down for a week.
Workouts began again Tuesday, with Norman, Irvine, Guzek and Radford being released Friday from isolation at a local hotel.
They won't be available to practice or play again until they go through mandated checks on their hearts.
'We at least have been able to get back to close to normal,” Heller said. 'Once we get those guys back, we should be there. But it definitely set us back, and it set us back at a really rough time.”
Top starting pitcher Jack Dreyer will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. Heller said Wallace, Irvine, sophomore Duncan Davitt and junior Cam Baumann should be rotation members, with freshmen Ty Langenberg and Will Semb making strong pushes for starts.
Seniors Grant Leonard and Trace Hoffman will head 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 freshman first baseman Peyton Williams (.298), among others.
'This is the toughest schedule we've probably ever played. Every single game is a Big Ten game, every single game counts. All 44 count. These first two weekends count in the standings. So, yeah, it'll be crazy,” Heller said. 'Those guys worked so hard last year, and we were in such a good place. For it to end, like it was for everyone, it was super disappointing and super sad. Just so happy that those guys found a way to be able to come back. We're missing a few of the guys, not all of them were able to come. But the majority did, and to have that kind of leadership come back was super important, super big for us.”
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