In sports, it is difficult to adequately social distance. Sports require contact, whether it be celebrating a homerun or tackling the opposition. Despite this, the Bombers must actively forego unnecessary contact to ensure the safety of the players, fans and community.
Leading that charge will be manager Mike Ruppenthal. 2020 will be his third year with the Bombers but will be unlike any other season. Ruppenthal must change the way he coaches and works with his team to ensure that the players participate in a full season.
“[Social distancing] absolutely [changes the way we interact]; we are trying to keep the guys as far apart as possible,” Ruppenthal said. “It just takes one guy to start spreading it around. It is good that we’re outside … But we still need to follow the guidelines and be pretty strict about it, if we want to have a full season.”
In terms of keeping players safe, the clubhouse will also be made unavailable, forcing players to get dressed and ready for the game wherever they may reside. Normally, players spend hours before and after the game sitting in the clubhouse bantering back and forth, building relationships with the guys they may ‘go to war with.’ But, things have changed. While players will not be spending their entire summers at the ballpark, Ruppenthal is certain that the team will be able to establish a very strong connection.
“The chemistry will be fine. We’ve got several [guys] returning,” Ruppenthal said. “We have a lot of guys coming [from] the same school, so there’s already going to be some chemistry … Just getting out for open field [Thursday, June 25], this is a good group.”
While this group is certainly a competitive bunch, it is more about improving one’s play than wins and losses. That is the reason for the more than 40 summer collegiate baseball leagues. One of the unexpected consequences of the current situation is that some leagues have been forced to cancel their seasons, increasing the pool of players available to the Bombers. One canceled league is the Cape Cod League, which is known as one of the premiere ones.
“We had some guys that were going to be playing in Cape Cod,” Ruppenthal said. “Two of the [guys] I’m really excited about are the two pitchers from Vandy [Luke Murphy and Thomas Schultz]. Those are guys that normally wouldn’t be sent to the Northwoods League … But with the Cape and New England League shutting down, we were able to get some guys that [can throw mid-90s]. I mean they are prospects. Those are guys that will be drafted someday.”
Regardless of talent, all of these players have not really played a game in over three months, since the spring season was canceled for all college athletics. It will take time for these players to get back to 100%, and Ruppenthal must consider how game-ready some of his players are. In order to do that, the Bombers’ manager has been in contact with players and their college coaches directly throughout the spring.
“Right out of the gate, we are going to keep the innings pretty limited,” Ruppenthal said. “Just health wise, making sure nobody gets hurt or pushed too early. There is a handful of guys that … are ready to throw multiple innings. With the layoff, I’d imagine the pitching is going to be pretty far ahead of the hitting for the first week or [two].”
At the end of the day, baseball is baseball. With some players you would not typically see here in the Northwoods League, there is a chance to watch the future of the MLB. And while that may be far into the future, in the present, baseball is here.
“Once everyone gets settled into it, you should see some pretty good baseball,” Ruppenthal said.