CORONAVIRUS

Kirkwood baseball coach Todd Rima focused on players, not 600-win milestone

Eagles leader reached 600 career victories before season was canceled, determined to help players decide future

Cedar Rapids Prairie head coach Todd Rima shouts to his team in the field during the 1st inning of their Class 4A quarte
Cedar Rapids Prairie head coach Todd Rima shouts to his team in the field during the 1st inning of their Class 4A quarterfinal game in the state baseball tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on Wednesday, Jul. 26, 2017. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Todd Rima doesn’t care about personal victories.

His focus has always been on his baseball players and what is best for them.

The Kirkwood head baseball coach’s voice conveyed exactly that when asked about winning his 600th game. You could tell he would trade any — if not all — of them for his players to have the chance to take the field the rest of this spring.

“Honestly, it’s a weird time right now,” Rima said. “For me, to see what our team has had to go through, it makes me appreciate more every young man I’ve had a chance to coach. You understand it’s more than just winning games. You understand that by communicating with them and former players reaching out right now, just that relationship and bond is so important in what we do.”

Rima’s milestone occurred Friday, following the National Junior College Athletic Association’s announcement to suspend spring sports the next day. The decision brought the annual Florida trip to a premature end, while the season came to a close Monday when the NJCAA opted to cancel competition and practice for the remainder of the academic year.

Rima had hoped the season could be salvaged with programs’ smaller venues and baseball being an outdoor sport. As the situation progressed, he realized the inevitable outcome.

“I applaud the NJCAA on how they handled it,” Rima said. “They gave us time. They looked at it to see if possibly it could be held. They are making the right decision for the well-being of the student-athlete and that’s what this thing is about. I appreciate the way that they handled it.”

The Eagles demonstrated resolve Friday, sweeping Sussex County (N.J.) Community College shortly after being told the season was going to be temporarily halted. They trounced Sussex County, 11-1, in five innings and added a 4-3 victory in the nightcap. Kirkwood (7-5) won seven of its last eight games.

The wins boosted Rima to 601 career victories, including 243 in seven seasons at Kirkwood. Rima spent part of the opener contacting Kirkwood athletics director Doug Wagemester, the airlines and a travel agent to arrange a way home.

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“To be honest, there was a point in the game when we beat Sussex for 600 that I didn’t know the score,” Rima said. “The game was going on and I was in the stands trying to set up flights. It was a very interesting situation.”

Rima said players were sent home to be with their families when they returned. Unfortunately, they weren’t together when Monday’s news hit. Staff scrambled to text each of the players before the public release on social media, because it was important that players hear it from them first.

“That was tough,” Rima said. “I would have loved to talk to them face-to-face because of the situation we were in. So, there has been a lot of communication and a lot of emotions from the guys after the fact, now.”

During Rima’s career, he has done a tremendous job developing players. Many have moved on to play for NCAA Division I teams, including 13 from last year’s roster. Among recent Eagles currently at D-I programs are Levi Usher (Louisville), Austin Krob (Texas Christian), Izaya Fullard (Iowa), Austin Miller (Mississippi) and Cal Clark (Houston Baptist).

Now, Rima is devoted to help his athletes make sense of the situation and help them determine future steps. The NJCAA won’t charge 2020 spring-sport athletes at member schools with a year of participation.

As the NCAA decides how to handle eligibility for its student-athletes, players committed to a four-year NCAA institution will need to re-evaluate that program’s needs, choosing to stay with that pick, changing to another school or staying at Kirkwood for a third year.

“Those are things we have to get more detail and information, so we can make the best judgment and decision for each one of our guys,” Rima said. “It’s going to be different for each one of our guys.”

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

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