Seniors Bailey Peterson, Sam Benschoter and Bryce Kelley reflected on a year that was lost as they strolled onto McLane Baseball Stadium's field once again.
Finally, baseball — what they thought ended for good last year as student-athletes — was back.
After they lost it last year, they know not to take it for granted. Not this time. Benschoter knows how he felt when it all seemingly came to an end last spring.
“At that time, no one really knew what extent it would be, and then later … he told us that our year was done,” Benschoter said. “I remember crying in the locker room with a few guys. And it was like 18 years of baseball, and then wake up one morning and you’re done.”
The Spartans faced many adversities with their season being cut short, as well as having eight graduating seniors. But they’re ready to be back and compete harder than before.
Big Ten baseball had the majority of their season cut short last year due to COVID-19, in which the Spartans were only able to compete in 15 of their 61 scheduled games.
Peterson and Kelley haven't just spent all these years playing the game so many love. All these years they competed alongside or against each other.
“I’ve been playing against (Bryce) Kelley since I was eight years old, so we have a long history and a long relationship … and (Sam) Benschoter is my roommate, so having him being able to go through this journey with me has been a pleasure,” Peterson said.
The team has created a bond, so the returning seniors were ecstatic to get the call from the Big Ten that they could come back for one more season.
“There was a lot of emotion that came with last season getting canceled," Peterson said. "When they made the announcement that they were going to allow us seniors to come back and have that extra year, it meant everything. This season is so special to all of us because it wasn’t where we expected to be."
Besides just being able to return for their final season, Benschoter, Peterson and Kelley were chosen to serve as team captains.
“Being able to come back and have a little bit of influence on the younger guys is something I would have never expected,” Kelley said. “I feel like I have a little bit more of a responsibility almost this year to show them the ropes.”
With a promising roster this season, Head Coach Jake Boss Jr. is excited to have the returning seniors back to finish out their final season.
“Thankfully for us, (the returning seniors) were excited about coming back,” Boss said. “And so, all five of those guys are going to be big components of the success that we have this year.”
With five returning seniors, a large freshman class and three transfers, the Spartans feel ready to take on a strange season. The Big Ten announced a 44-game schedule that will be played among the 14 Big Ten schools in the conference.
The season will start off March 5-7 against Maryland in Greenville, South Carolina.
“Greenville, South Carolina, is a place that we’ve been to every year that I’ve been here at Michigan State," Boss said. "It’s a place we’ll continue to go. We love it down there. The city’s fantastic. The ballpark is just phenomenal.”
MSU will play either three or four against a Big Ten foe every weekend of the 2021 season, with no mid-week games.
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With the season finally in sight, the Spartan roster is stacked from freshmen to seniors.
“Mason Erla is probably the highest-profile guy that we have right now on the roster … and is really, in my opinion, one of the best right-hand pitchers in the country,” Boss said. "Kelly and Bailey Peterson were both hitting .400 or above last year when the season was cut short. So, those guys are gonna have to lead the offense, for sure.”
Boss emphasized that just putting forth 110% effort is a strength of his team, working extremely hard, especially when this season is put in perspective for all those that came back after last year.
“First and foremost, we want our guys to play hard, and play hard all the time,” he said. “I think we try to take a page out of coach (Tom) Izzo’s playbook, with how hard their basketball team plays, win or lose. ... We understand that there’s a long tradition here with baseball being the first sport here at Michigan State and so, we feel like we have a responsibility to do that justice.”
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