Thrown a Changeup: How a Season Delay Has Impacted Jaguar Baseball

After the CHSAA regular season was pushed from its traditional March start, the Rock Canyon varsity team continues to prepare for the now May season. The team’s players discuss losing teammates, and anxiety building as a result of the Covid-induced delay.

by Luka Owen, Reporter

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken opportunity away from everyone, as well as having the plans of students in regards to things such as trips, college choices, and school schedules drastically altered over the course of the last year. But as we return to a feeling of normalcy with full capacity learning at school, the varsity baseball team continues to deal with the rough aftermath of their regular season being delayed as they head into their season opening games this weekend. 

The official high school season traditionally hits its stride in the spring, with regular season games beginning in mid March and carrying through the end of the school year. However, after a season delay announced by Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) back in September, the Rock Canyon varsity baseball team continues to wait for the opportunity to take the field in the regular season. 

It has now been well over a year since the last time a team has played under the Rock Canyon school name, when the 2019-2020 team traveled to Grand Junction for two james in March of 2020, before being forced to come home prematurely due to growing COVID-19 concerns within the state that ultimately shut down the season altogether. 

“It was hard knowing that all our work we put in that fall and winter was for nothing. I was also pretty sad that we didn’t get to finish out the season with the guys who were seniors at the time,” catcher Dawson DeMier ‘21 said.

Moreover, the varsity team has dealt with more than just anxiety regarding the season in recent months, as the season delay dragging into mid June has influenced many of the team’s senior players to hang up their cleats and end their high school baseball careers.

“In the end, the way I see baseball is just as a game. I find a lot of joy in playing, and I’m sure a lot of other guys do too. I hate that because of the delay, some guys had to make the decision to miss out on their final year of baseball” pitcher/outfielder  Michael Merkle ‘22 said. 

As a junior on the varsity team, Merkle struggled with the news that his older teammates and mentors would not be joining him on the field for their final season at school.

“I do understand that there is a point where they have the responsibility of doing what is best for them. It has affected our team in a big way. I look to the seniors for leadership, and with some of them having to go away, it has been kind of hard to learn and grow from older teammates” Merkle said.

This concern seems to be a common theme among the underclassmen ballplayers looking for early success in their high school careers.

“[The seniors] choice to step away was hard for everyone, but understood,” infielder Brayden Duman ‘23 said

Especially for these younger players on the team, the lack of experience from the departure of senior players has left few teammate mentors for these youngsters to pick the brains of and have moral support from. 

However, it is not just the varsity team’s underclassmen who have struggled to come to terms with a handful of their teammates leaving, the remaining seniors have had to deal with losing lifelong friends as their teammates. 

“It’s tough because we all played on some teams together over the years that had great chemistry and watching other guys you don’t know as well fill their spots can be hard” pitcher Cade Nelson ‘21 said. 

Although there are still many players on the team who have played together for many years, Nelson among others in the senior class have been forced to say goodbye to teammates who they had played with since elementary and middle school.

Aiden Buie ‘21, who is one of the seniors who made the decision to call it quits on high school baseball, provided some insight as to what fueled this difficult choice. 

“The delay of the season really discouraged a large amount of the athletes in the program. It made it harder to stay motivated for the whole offseason. The seniors especially were discouraged with the news that the season would be continuing after graduation as we all head off into our last summer and college,” Buie said.

After endless hours of sweat and commitment poured into the baseball program throughout their high school experience, players like Buie felt as though the time was right to decompress and value the little time that they have left to be high school students. 

The summer of senior year for students is notoriously eventful, often filled with graduation parties, senior trips, and preparation for college or whatever paths lie ahead for these individuals.

But with all of this being said, the departure of numerous seniors for varsity baseball has not been the only obstacle created as a result of the CHSAA season delay. 

“It is hard to get a full team of  18 or so guys to play hard twenty-four seven with such a long break,” Duman said. 

On a normal CHSAA schedule, the season would already be pushing towards the playoffs, and due to this, players have seemed to have a difficult time staying motivated to practice hard and stay accountable every day. 

“Lots of younger players now have the chance to play up at the varsity level,” pitcher Zach Taylor ‘21 said. 

Although this situation obviously presents the benefits of giving opportunity to players who have more time left in the program and grooming them to be successful, the lack of experience poses the question as to whether or not the competition within the Continental League may prove to be a tall task for these underclassmen.

“While the CHSAA season delay wasn’t ideal, I think it definitely helped with making our coaching decisions… which gave us two more months to watch and evaluate players before making teams,” varsity assistant coach Ty Jacobs said. 

Jacobs, entering his fourth year as a coach for Rock Canyon baseball, has worked under two head coaches, and experienced regular season delays at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic each of the last two years. However, this season’s delay has posed an entirely new set of conflicts and questions from the coaching standpoint. 

“I feel like the players have been waiting so long to get back into real competition that they’re chomping at the bit to get the season going,” Jacobs said.

Ultimately, the season delay has proved to be a grueling process for the Rock Canyon varsity baseball squad, but nonetheless, the show goes on. Their season is set to kick off this weekend, and their hard work and dedication in the midst of this unprecedented season should not go unappreciated.