After almost a year of no competitive play, the Slippery Rock men’s baseball team is set to return to action. The SRU baseball team was one of the first teams affected by the cancellations of sports last March and now looks to be one of the first teams to resume play.
“We’re anticipating the opportunity to be able to play this spring and that’s really what we’re hoping will happen,” head coach Jeff Messer said.
When the West Chester University baseball team, who was the first school in the PSAC to cancel spring sports last year, got the call that confirmed so, The Rock baseball team was eating breakfast with them in North Carolina. The teams had been down there for their preseason and, at the time, Coach Messer thought the decision was bizarre, but then realized that there was a lot more going on. However, Slippery Rock finished out their time there and played a few more games.
It was not until a few days later when the team was in the middle of a game with Kutztown that the PSAC made the decision to cancel all spring sports.
“We played during spring break against Kutztown in Washington, and I got a text from Paul Lueken and he said that the PSAC had decided to shut everything down,” Messer said. “We were instructed to not go through the handshake lines once the game was over, and that was last time we were all together as a team, and it was a hard pill to swallow.”
Last year’s team consisted of only five seniors, and when it came to making the decision on whether or not they would return, they all decided that with things being so uncertain they wanted to move on. This season The Rock only has four seniors, all of whom are hoping that they can play out their final season.
“This season is more important to the seniors than anyone else because this could be their last season, and you obviously want to go out on a positive note and you want to finish your career on the playing field,” Messer said.
So far, the team has not been able to get together and have a full team practice. This is due to COVID-19 guidelines, but also the weather. The team has been broken up into small groups based on their positions, but in the next few weeks, The Rock will return to practice and take a huge step towards the start of the season.
As things get rolling again, the team is just excited to finally have an opportunity to get back on the field, and that is the teams main focus right now.
“It’s more of passion for the game than a desire or even worrying about championships, it’s to the point where they just miss baseball,” Messer said. “Everyone wants to win championships, but it’s to a point now where they’ve played this game their whole lives and now, they’re just anticipating that they’ll have an opportunity to get back on the field.”
The team finished a shortened season 7-3 last year, and most players have not played since. But some players were fortunate enough to be able to play in the summer last year, although Messer pointed out that some players chose to opt out. But overall, his message to his team has simply been to stay healthy and be safe above everything else.
“[The biggest message] to the team was to stay healthy and we’ve reminded them that their decisions affect not only their family, but their baseball family as well,” Messer said. “And secondly, we’ve told them to cherish the time that we do have, because you never know when it could just slip away.”
More than anything, though, Messer misses being in person. Throughout the past 11 months, the team has primarily used zoom to stay connected, and this has been the biggest challenge of all for Messer. He explained that you never know how much you’ll miss something until you lose it, which is why he has spent a lot of time putting emphasis on following all the protocols that have been set forward.
As it stands, The Rock baseball team would have 37 games and only three of them would be against a non-PSAC school. Those being the first three games of the season, when they will play West Virginia State University at home, and those games will actually be the first on the new field in Jack Critchfield Park. When last season was scheduled to begin, it was going to be the first season played in the upgraded stadium. Now, should things play out, The Rock will have 23 home games on the new field.
As for what the season’s goal is, it has been made clear that the biggest goal is just to return to competitive action and keep everyone safe while doing so.
Messer said, “my biggest hope for the season is that we’re just on the field, I think it’s still an unknown and I don’t doubt that everyone is trying to get sports back for the spring, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t wake up tomorrow and lose it all again.”
The team has been following procedures set by the university and works closely with athletic trainer Stacy Arend who is charge of taking care of the baseball team and is also the head of testing for student athletes.
“Stacy is unbelievable, the number of hours and time she’s spent with our student athletes is amazing and without the leadership from our administration down to our athletic department we wouldn’t be where we are,” Messer said.