HUNTINGTON, Ind. (FDN) Huntington University’s baseball team had just started conference play and were off to a good start with three wins and no loses. But no one could have predicted what happened next. The rest of their season was cancelled thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“We played the Marian series to open up the league and the next week we were supposed to go to Goshen, which was the first weekend of spring break,” said head coach Mike Frame. “We were literally in uniform, in the athletic office, and waiting to see if they were going to let us go and play or not.”
When the NAIA originally delayed the season by a month, Frame was hopeful play would resume in April.
“Even though I was telling them ‘Hey we’ve got a couple weeks and then we will be playing again’, I think deep down inside I knew we weren’t going to,” stated Frame.
When leaders officially ended the season, Frame brought the team together to discuss what the plan was going to be moving forward.
“The mood in the room was odd because we were all coming to meet, but baseball wasn’t happening anymore,” said senior third baseman Daniel Lichtey. “It was just very weird. And then when Coach Frame walked in, he was saying ‘This is out of my control. I can’t change anything so we just have to roll with the punches. And it sucks.'”
The NAIA followed the NCAA and gave graduating seniors an extra year of eligibility. This allows current seniors an opportunity to play one last full season.
Some seniors are committed to pursuing graduate school at HU so they can play baseball next year. But others, like catcher Eli Knust, are waiting to see if they get a job before making the decision.
“It’s a blessing and a curse honestly,” said Knust. “If we were to go on with our normal lives, I would have been forced to get a job and hang up the jersey. I would have had the opportunity to get an MBA, but I wouldn’t have been able to play and wouldn’t have been a thought until now.”
The extra year of eligibility has created additional recruiting for the coaching staff. Frame said it’s still uncertain, but there could be around 40 players on the team next year.
“We began the process at that point to recruit our seniors again to see what they were thinking,” Frame explained. “New recruits that were coming in this fall were calling us asking ‘What is going on? Do you still want me? Is there still scholarship money?’ There are a lot of issues to work through and I think we’ve come out of it on the other side in decent shape.”
Still, it’s hard not to watch baseball being played at Forest Glenn Park in the spring. Spectators are usually hammocking in trees and filling the seats this time of year. The feeling is mutual for the hall of fame coach.
“The highlight of my day, every day is when we circle up on the field, or in the field house, and going through our stretching is I walk around and I shake everyone’s hand,” said Frame. “It just gives me a chance to look them in the eye and connect with them. We had Zoom meetings last week with them and it’s just not the same.”
With several seniors possibly returning for yet another year, they will definitely be the team to watch in the Crossroads League next spring. Still nobody knows how long the pandemic will last.