Keeping a level head during the coronavirus pandemic can be a difficult task to uphold, especially for those student-athletes who feel they should be doing so much more. Nobody understands the baseball team better than head coach Chris Tracz. It is a sport that is supposed to be played every day, which is why coming to reality with the situation can be tough to cope with.
“They’re frustrated, they’re disappointed. I think every normal emotion is not being able to play and watch,” Tracz said. “You know, the teams around the country, other leagues and our league play. But they just got to take in the attitude that we’re just going to do what we have to do.”
Marist was the last baseball team in the MAAC to play an official game. Watching every other team in the conference play out their seasons, while they couldn’t even take the field together was a harsh fact to accept.
“It’s never easy. I think there’s increased frustration, every time there’s a pause, but what are we going to do? We have to try and get through it. The hope is that we can salvage a part of the season and compete together,” said Tracz.
Pushing through is really the only option available. The team was originally not allowed to officially practice together, but were free to train on their own. The grind of being a collegiate athlete never stops, even with the inability to practice as a team. They were ready for whenever they were allowed to play games and staying prepared physically and mentally.
“We couldn’t practice,” said Tracz, however he described how the team has been able to maneuver their way to keeping the team conditioned. “We can basically set up some stuff on the field to make sure that both ends are available.”
Athletes must abide by the school code, which leads to many limitations, but with the coaches setting up exercises and drills on the field, the players are able to stay in playing shape. Even though it may just be throwing bullpens, hitting in the cages or fielding ground balls, these minor practice sessions help to maintain the players’ baseball mentality.
Trust plays a significant factor throughout this entire process. Coaches do not just exist to set the lineups and make pitching changes, but to direct the team. Without that authority figure to keep every player in line, it can be tough to predict how the team will produce.
“That’s probably the most difficult part. We haven’t practiced this year. From the fall to now, we haven’t practiced at all,” said Tracz. “The guys, they just do what they need to do to stay ready. And we have to trust them as coaches to do it.”
The team was supposed to begin practicing the week leading into their first conference weekend, however, it happened to be the same week the initial pause took place. This program can not catch a break, yet despite everything, the team has stayed resilient.
When coaches can not see their players, communication becomes the hardest challenge. Coach Tracz discussed how Zoom meetings, team meetings, texts and calls are used to maintain strong relationships with their players. Tracz emphasized the importance of teammates also staying connected, as chemistry is beneficial on and off the field.
“These guys came to Marist to win a MAAC championship, to compete. And, until that point, when that’s no longer viable, with these pauses, they’ll do whatever it is to stay together and try and do this,” said Tracz. “You know, the motivation part, they’ve taken care of on their own, they’ve been a great group.”
Preparation is everything when teams can not play. Even with all the other MAAC teams playing right now, the baseball team can not focus on the actions of others, just what they have power over.
“We haven’t practiced in a year. We haven’t competed in a year. We haven’t been together as a group, except for on the computer in a year. So I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. But I know they will play really hard. And we’ll compete really hard,” said Tracz. “These guys have been preparing for the moment we get to compete and I believe that.”
The continued campus pauses have been detrimental to lots of athletic programs at Marist. All these student-athletes want is the opportunity to play. The team is back on the field and successfully competed in two double-headers this past weekend. This pandemic has troubled everyone, but these pauses have become excessive. Vaccinations are increasing, coronavirus testing is constant and masks are still required, therefore the correct precautionary guidelines are in place for player safety. Let’s hope that baseball can remain on the diamond.
Edited by Dave Connelly and Nicholas Stanziale
Photo Credit: Marist College Athletics