One Creighton outfielder is two weeks away from playing an actual baseball game.
Just that thought can get Jared Wegner’s adrenaline pumping.
“I literally could not be happier,” the Kearney product said last week.
Instead of straining on his dad’s Peloton or sprinting on a nearby soccer field, he’ll get to plant his cleats into the infield dirt and dart around the bases. Instead of taking swings off a tee inside his parents’ garage or timing up BP tosses from Dad at a local batting cage, the second-team All-Big East performer will be trying to smack 90 mph fastballs across the diamond.
Baseball’s coming back. Well, amateur baseball, at least.
In Nebraska, the coronavirus-related restrictions for organized sports start to loosen Monday. Youth baseball practices can begin. Games can begin June 18.
Other states in the region are moving in a similar direction. That’s allowed for the Northwoods League — a longtime summer ball destination for college players — to start a modified season. So Wegner has the opportunity to step on the field again.
This will be different, though.
He’ll leave for North Dakota next week. He’ll take a COVID-19 test. He’ll stay in a local hotel and adhere to social-distancing guidelines.
His summer squad, the newly formed Bismarck Flickertails, will play all 48 of their games in the same ballpark. They’ll match up against just two other teams all summer. The Northwoods League plans to host more three-team pods in other locations later this summer.
“It might get a little repetitive,” Wegner said with a chuckle. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Wegner hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 22. He injured his hand that day, requiring surgery. He had just barely started his recovery when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the entire college baseball season well before its halfway point.
The NCAA ruled that spring sports athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility because their seasons were cut short. So seniors have the option to return to school — at Creighton, five of the seven will be back next year, coach Ed Servais said.
But until 2021 arrives, Wegner and his Creighton teammates might have to get a little creative as they try to stay in shape.
There’s no immediate plan to bring Creighton athletes back on campus, though the NCAA is allowing voluntary workouts to start Monday. Servais said he has encouraged his position players to find summer ball opportunities. Some Jays live in parts of the country where organized sports haven’t yet been approved to resume. Some still can’t get to the gym or cages yet.
“I was impressed with some of the creativity of their workouts — garages, basements,” Servais said. “One thing about young people is they’re very resilient. After the initial shock that the season was taken from them, they kind of picked themselves up and did the best they could in a tough situation.”
Wegner was one of those guys.
He had to first rehab his injured hand. So he bought a bucket, filled it with rice and started devoting two hours per day to a strengthening regimen. He bought some exercise bands, too.
He gathered some dumbbells and set up a weight room in his basement. Dad had a spare piece of turf, so they put that on the garage floor — where Wegner worked with a tee until he got his swing back.
He’s healthy now, and eager to play again.
During his freshman year in 2019, Wegner ranked eighth during Big East play in batting average (.340) and 10th in on-base percentage (.443). He’s motivated to build on that success — his commitment these past couple of months is evidence.
“It’s been a different feel for sure,” Wegner said. “You miss things, like just being in the weight room with all the guys. The yelling, the fun. But you’ve got to find that inner motivation to keep going. Just have to keep pushing.”
The past 10 years of Creighton baseball
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