MT. PLEASANT — For a college baseball or softball coach, the spring season is what you work all season for. All the recruiting, offseason workouts and practices prepare you for a packed two-month stretch in March and April that define the work you put in all year. For the 2020 Iowa Wesleyan teams, however, the spring comes with an entirely different set of challenges.
Much like the Tiger golf and track and field teams, the 2020 baseball and softball seasons were cut well short. The Tiger softball team had completed 10 games, all in their trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the baseball team had played just six, when the seasons were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and eventually canceled. “I really started to think about it on our day off (Tuesday, March 10) in Myrtle Beach,” said Tiger softball coach Mike Hampton. “But more on the lines that our season may be postponed, not wiped out.”
The IW softball team finished their spring break trip, playing games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. By Thursday, the NBA season NCAA conference basketball tournaments were being canceled, early dominoes in what would be the complete postponement and/or cancellation of every major sport, at every level, nationwide.
“I have never really worried from a health standpoint,” Tiger baseball coach Blake Beaber says. “Once the NCAA announced that they were canceling the March Madness Tournament, I figured that was the beginning of the end.”
The Tiger baseball team played just one of their two scheduled Thursday games, getting five total games canceled down south. Eventually, all games were axed, including a home doubleheader against Principia College on Saturday, March 21, which would have been the team’s home opener.
“It all hit at once, and there was more and more every day,” Beaber says. “Everyone went home thinking it was going to be a week or two off.”
Beaber was just beginning his third year as the baseball team’s head coach. Hampton was in his 27th.
“(The hardest part) was knowing that, after seeing our young ladies in action, that we would be very competitive,” Hampton says. “The season had a lot of promise with a great bunch of young ladies.”
The Tiger softball team was favored to make the SLIAC tournament, coming in fourth in the SLIAC preseason poll. The baseball team struggled last season, but had a laundry-list of returners ready to make a run.
“It sucks for the seniors,” Beaber says. “We play Division-3 baseball and if they graduated, there is no way they would come back and play, nor would I recommend it. It is terrible for all levels of baseball. The scholarships at the high levels may dip into the 50-60 percent levels if you are not a great player. It si going to be tough for some players to make that decision to come back or not.”
As it stands now, seniors in spring sports will be granted an extra year of eligibility. For a player at a DIII school like Iowa Wesleyan, that births a tough decision — to stick around and play after graduation or to hang up the glove.
“We will leave it up to theseniors as to what they want to do about an additional season,” Hampton says. “Of course we would like to have them come back for an additional season, but they have prepared for their profession for four years, and may want to get started in it. We have always said academics and professional development comes before softball.”
With luck, the college spring season will be the only season completely canceled by the virus, but that may be wishful thinking as the high school spring and summer seasons could be next up for cancellation. The high school spring sports season is already pushed back to mid-April at the absolute earliest. As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the sports world, the Union will keep readers updated with reactions and future plans of area athletes.