The fresh smell of grass, cool breeze blowing, leaves changing colors and falling from the trees, signs all around of the end of summer and the beginning of winter: that’s the setting for fall baseball on Evan Oswald field.
Almost every sport has a preparation season, a regular season and an off season. But baseball is unique. The Hesston College baseball team just wrapped up their fall season Oct. 20 after playing a total of 15 doubleheader games in the fall and 56 regular games in the spring.
So why is it that this sport has two seasons?
“It’s the culture of the sport,” said head coach Kyle Howell. “Baseball in general has become kind of a year-round endeavor, whether it’s the youth side or even at the professional side with an eight-month season, two months of an off season and then two months of preseason.”
Most often coaches will determine starting players by evaluating performance during practices. But starters also rise to the surface during fall games. Not only that, sometimes players don’t end up in the positions they were recruited for. Fall ball is a perfect time for players to settle into the changes.
Sophomore Jace Robinson experienced this after coming to Hesston.
“Coming in I was going to be the average bullpen guy,” he said. “Then Kyle told me that he wanted me to close and be the guy who ends the game when we are up by one. I had to change my mentality and listening to what Coach had to say helped me out and really made an impact on how I pitched this fall.”
Howell says fall ball is tough, and that’s kind of the point. It’s about finding out who’s going to make the biggest impact and where. But there’s more to it than that.
“It’s also about creating a scenario that’s a little bit tougher than game day would be,” he said. “So you go through adversity now so by the time you get to a real game, seven innings seems really easy.”
Since there are no practice restrictions for baseball the fall is like a second season for the team. That’s different from most other sports.
“I would say the main difference is we’re playing games almost every day,” said Howell. “It’s not
play and then practice for four days and then play again. It’s almost everyday’s a game day. Which makes it tough on the body and it’s also more of a mental grind of everyday I have to come ready to play, not just ready to try to work hard at practice.”
Although coaches work hard to take necessary precautions, injuries still happen. Robinson tore his RCL (radial collateral ligament) this fall, but he doesn’t blame it on the vigorous schedule.
“In the fall we do a lot of muscle training to keep us healthy,” Robinson said. “My arm injury was a freak accident and is something that happens out of the ordinary. I don’t think anything I could have done would have helped prevent my injury.”
For some of the guys, fall baseball is even more critical than the spring season. Four-year teams Hesston goes up against are looking to recruit while competing. This could mean big opportunities for players’ futures. For Robinson, it’s a way to get his name out there early.
“…Then the scouts really pour in during the spring,” said Robinson. “Not only does that help me, but it also helps out my teammates by getting them to the next level as well.”