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Michigan State baseball returns to practice after long wait

October 12, 2020
<p>Junior pitcher Mitchell Tyranski (36) pitches the ball against Illinois. The Spartans beat the Fighting Illini, 5-2, at McLane Baseball Stadium on May 17, 2019. </p>

Junior pitcher Mitchell Tyranski (36) pitches the ball against Illinois. The Spartans beat the Fighting Illini, 5-2, at McLane Baseball Stadium on May 17, 2019.

After a soul crushing cancellation to the season last March, Michigan State baseball is finally able to get back on the field for practice.

In late September, Michigan State head baseball coach Jake Boss was able to finally get the team back on the practice field, for the amount that COVID-19 allows at least. Practices are held six times a week, but in three separate groups, each comprising about 13 athletes. In addition to the normal workouts, they have also been able to play in a few scrimmages against each other.

“Guys are excited primarily,” Boss said. “I think it was good to see everybody again and get the group together as best as we could, while still trying to be careful, trying to practice social distancing and just trying to be smart about what we do.”

For senior outfielder Bryce Kelley, his final season in the green and white has started much differently than in years past.

“It's been great,” Kelley said. “It's been a lot different than how it looked for me in the past obviously with all the restrictions and everything, but it's been a good couple of weeks. I feel like a lot of the guys are getting their feet wet, especially for me coming back after not really seeing the field since March.”

Boss said that no athletes have decided to opt-out at this time, and they have only had one positive test identified through contact tracing since returning to practice. Despite the team feeling safe with the protocols in place, sacrifices still have to be made for the goals to be reached.

“It was exciting to come back, but at the same time, I'd be lying to you if I said it was normal,” Boss said. “We've all had to make adjustments and we told our guys before the first practice on a Zoom meeting ‘you're gonna have to make some sacrifices here’ and if we want to continue to do what we want to do, which is practice and then eventually play in the spring. I think the message has hit home.”

When the season came to an abrupt end in March, the Spartans were getting ready to begin Big Ten play. However, now they have a real chance to improve on the things they started on in the non-conference portion of the season.

“Offensively, we were better in 2019 than we were in 2018, so I think just continue to look to improve on that and try to develop some consistency there,” Boss said. “We weren't very deep on the mound last year and with a thin pitching staff, we need to develop some of those guys that maybe didn't get the chance to pitch a whole lot a year ago so that they can contribute.”

The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for seniors in spring sports, including baseball, shortly after the season was canceled. Boss was able to retain five seniors while three decided to depart from the program.

Kelley was one of the five who decided to return, despite a job offer on the table after graduation.

“I had a job offer that I had accepted, almost a year ago today,” Kelley said. “When the news broke that the season was canceled, I reached out to my boss. I explained the whole situation and he was super cool, he said ‘if you get the chance to go back, you're gonna work for like 30 to 35 years after this, but you only have one chance at college baseball and college athletics.’ To say that was like the final blessing for me to consider it seriously and ultimately make the decision to come back.”

 Boss thinks these five players can bring experience and leadership into a locker room that will need it.

“We're going to lean on those guys for leadership,” Boss said. “They're going to lead both on and off the field, and really kind of use those guys as five different extensions of the coaching staff. They've played a lot of baseball, they've been around for a long time, and they know the game really well. As a coaching staff, we're going to use those guys to help some of the younger guys.”

With five months until the baseball season’s potential start, a lot of decisions are waiting to be made for what the season could look like. While as of now the schedule is set when it was put together about a year ago and could easily change by March.

“I don't know that anybody really knows what to expect I think,” Boss said. “I mean the cliche is one day at a time, but I think it's true in this case. I mean we're worried about today and what practice is going to look like today, and tomorrow we'll be worried about tomorrow.”

Football and hockey will be subject to daily antigen testing from the Big Ten as well as cardiac screening and many other procedures. For now, the testing procedures for other sports remain up in the air, but Boss hopes they can get their hands on as many tests as possible.

“I think testing as much as we can, but again I’m just the coach,” Boss said. “I don't have a lot of the details as far as what goes into what the cost is. Some of the logistics that I certainly would be in favor of is as much testing as we can possibly do. I understand that there's not an unlimited pile of money laying around either. So we'll do what we can, with what we have and we'll make it work.”

While the season is nearly six months  away, the Spartans are looking to break out in a big way come the spring.

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