Prep Baseball

'I had a blast': High school baseball teams in Iowa embrace precautions in return to practice

Temperature taking, hand washing now a common sight at diamonds

HLV Coach Wes Warwick was excited to get baseball practice started on Monday and posted this picture on Twitter to begin
HLV Coach Wes Warwick was excited to get baseball practice started on Monday and posted this picture on Twitter to begin the day. (Wes Warwick)

Linn-Mar junior Coy Sarsfield’s opening day routine was much different from the past.

He didn’t just hop out of the car, grab his bag and head to the Lions’ locker room to get dressed and ready for practice at Oak Ridge Middle School.

The all-state outfielder and University of Iowa commit donned a protective mask as he emerged from his car, waited to get his temperature recorded and then had to wash his hands before he could even enter the park to find a designated spot for his equipment along the field’s fence.

The extra measures didn’t put a damper on reuniting with his teammates.

“I had a blast,” Sarsfield said. “I think all the precautions, they are necessary and it’s nothing too extreme.

“I understand this and I’ll do all this as long as we get to keep playing.”

Monday marked the first day of prep baseball practice and the return to sanctioned activities that were postponed mid-March by emergency declarations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Spring sports were canceled entirely, but baseball and softball had the chance to salvage part of the season, instituting all new guidelines.

Many coaches spent part of practice addressing the rules and how important it is that they are strictly followed.

“We had a discussion with the kids beforehand about things they have to do, what the district requires and what the school requires,” Iowa City High Coach Brian Mitchell said. “We’re fortunate to be out here doing this. You just take care of things. Do what you’re supposed to do and it will be smooth.”

Mitchell added, “I couldn’t be more happy with what we just went through. The overall feel, they are happy to be here and so are we.”

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Coaches and players are adjusting to the new procedures and safety precautions. Some programs had trainers oversee temperatures and survey questions. Others relied on coaches themselves, while another group had players take their temperatures at home and report to the coach at the field.

They are willing to take the necessary steps for an opportunity to return to the diamond.

“It still is baseball when you get inside the fence,” Alburnett Coach Ryan Stensland said. “For a few hours each day, you can set your concerns and problems aside and play the game you love.”

Sarsfield’s coach, Kyle Rodenkirk, begins his third year with the Lions and 16th overall. Obviously, this was a much different experience for all involved but he was impressed how players responded.

“The kids did a really good job with everything,” Rodenkirk said. “I just hope it continues.”

Getting into practice took longer than usual but a sense of normalcy set in when practice actually started. The only issue was remembering to remain at arm’s length from each other.

“Everybody was playing their game like they usually would,” Sarsfield said. “I think the first time going through the whole process to get your temperature and all that made it slower to get to that point where everybody was comfortable on the field.

“It may take a couple weeks to get used to but I think everyone will get used to what we need to do to get on the field and be ready to go.”

Additional breaks to wash hands and ensure hand sanitizing stretched practices a bit. As practice progressed, things became a little more comfortable.

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“It was kind of difficult,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Mason Behn said. “We got used to it and hopefully we’ll keep doing that the rest of the season. Just try to make it normal.”

Some coaches altered their approaches to practice. Half of the Little Hawks’ sophomores and varsity players were sent to their indoor facility. The rest were at Mercer Park. The goal was to avoid overcrowding.

“We kept our numbers down,” Mitchell said. “That was part of the thinking there, too. Plus, it’s more efficient.

“Just the way we had things organized they were away from each other.”

Cascade Coach Roamn Hummel split players into position groups, players were assigned to one of three coaches, working on the same infield and outfield drills. It turned out well.

“That was the biggest adjustment, so far,” Hummel said. “Everybody was doing something. We didn’t have much standing around as much as we have in the past. Everybody doing the same thing now works a lot faster.”

Hummel noted a few players without waivers were initially turned away and one player forgot sunflower seeds weren’t allowed. Other than that, the Cougars were thrilled to be back on the diamond.

“You can get a sense there is a little bounce in their step a little bit more here,” Hummel said. “Guys have been off. I think they are ready to play and more motivated to be together, too.”

Responsibility accompanies the opportunity. The success, or lack thereof, will have an impact on the season, various sports and other states with sights on returning. This clinical trial, of sorts, is being taken seriously.

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“I think we’re going to be the big example,” Behn said. “Hopefully, other states can see and start doing the same and get back.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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