IOWA CITY — This is life as a Big Ten Conference baseball program.
Most of the snow and ice on the turf at Iowa’s Duane Banks Field was finally disposed of Wednesday. By Thursday, all of it was gone.
Because of this persistent cold and wet late winter/early spring, the Hawkeyes haven’t been able to get outside to practice at home even once. Their best friend has been the school’s indoor football facility.
Iowa has had its scheduled home opener canceled three times but hopes to play Saturday afternoon at 1:05 against Cal State-Northridge. Then it’ll be a doubleheader Sunday afternoon against the Matadors at 1:05.
“The field is ready to go,” Iowa Coach Rick Heller said. “Now we just need the wind to stop blowing here a little bit.”
This doesn’t mean the Hawks have been idle. They have been all over the place the first month of the season: four games in Hawaii, three games at Oklahoma State, three at Evansville, three in Florida against various opponents.
Iowa has a 7-6 record, which isn’t particularly pleasing to Heller.
“I guess I’d say we have competed well,” he said. “We have been close. If you look at the start to this season, it is really close to being a really awesome start. Unfortunately, we’ve had some inconsistencies in, really, all phases of the game: offense, defense and pitching. Just little things have cost us some close games that really could have given us a great start.”
Iowa lost games to Hawaii and Oklahoma State in which it led in the ninth inning. It has some injuries it is dealing with, including a torn UCL that will sideline pitcher Ben Probst the rest of the season and a shoulder injury that is keeping promising sophomore pitcher Jack Dreyer on the shelf.
Senior Cole McDonald is the ace of the Hawkeyes staff but has an earned run average over 5.00 in four starts. The bullpen has had its good moments but also some failures.
Iowa pounded Evansville, 18-7, in the opener of a three-game series last weekend. Then it scored one total run in the final two games, both losses.
“I felt like early on the pitching was really struggling, as far as throwing strikes,” Heller said. “Then you throw in the fact we are missing three arms right now that we were expecting to give us a lot of innings. That really hurts, those injuries. Then offensively, with the losses that we had, we thought it might be a work in progress, and it has been. We’ve seen a lot of good things, we’ve had some great at-bats against really good pitchers. Then we turn around and lose focus against some guys we should probably have done a better job against.
“From top to bottom, we just have to do a better job of being more consistent in the three-game series. We’re pretty good in one or two (games), then we’ll have a lapse and fall back in one of the games.”
The good news is many of the newcomers Heller was counting on in the lineup have produced early.
Junior college catcher Austin Martin has a .341 batting average and two homers, with the coach calling him his team’s most consistent player. First baseman/designated hitter Tanner Padgett, another juco guy, is hitting .395 in 10 games, though he’s nursing a hamstring injury.
Former Iowa City West prep and Kirkwood Community College standout Izaya Fullard is hitting .275 with eight RBIs as a first and third baseman.
Iowa is scheduled to host Chicago State in a mid-week game Wednesday, with Big Ten Conference play beginning next weekend at Indiana.
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“Keep plugging along,” Heller said. “This wasn’t anything I didn’t think could happen. I was hoping it didn’t. I felt like we could get off to a better start than what we have. You look at the games, and we’ve been right there.
“The road is rough, and getting back home is going to be good for us. I hope that’s true.”
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