Iowa baseball notebook: Familiar look to 2021 roster; Heller talks about schedule
Hawkeyes begin 2021 season March 6 against Michigan
By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The 2021 Iowa baseball team will look quite similar to the 2020 team that had its season canceled after just 15 games due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Iowa, which held its annual media day Friday via Zoom, returns all of its starting position players and lost just three members of its pitching staff after last season.
Several of Iowa’s seniors from last season elected to take the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic.
Iowa also returns redshirt sophomore pitchers Jack Dreyer and Duncan Davitt, although Dreyer will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery.
“There was a lot of conversation amongst ourselves,” senior catcher Austin Martin said. “But I think at the end of the day, last season it’s no secret, we were robbed of what we were shooting for all year. I think everyone having that common goal in mind and the opportunity to come back and chase that dream last time together was huge.”
Iowa began last season with a 10-5 record, including wins over No. 18 Arizona, No. 20 North Carolina and No. 14 Duke.
Junior infielder Izaya Fullard, who started all 15 games and hit .400 with 21 RBIs, said Iowa feels confident that it can still build on the momentum from last season despite such a long layoff.
“Last year when our season got cut short, we were in a really good spot,” Fullard said. “We had just come off a couple big wins against some ranked opponents and we felt really good about our team. Coming into this year, we had a lot of our guys returning, we feel really good. We have a really good pitching staff, a really good lineup.”
Because of COVID restrictions on in-person activities during the offseason, Iowa players had to take it upon themselves to get in workouts when they couldn’t formally be together for one reason or another.
Iowa suffered a setback Feb. 17 when it had to pause all in-person activities due to positive COVID tests within the program.
Iowa resumed practice Tuesday without the players who tested positive for COVID.
The Hawkeyes will begin the season March 6 against Michigan in Round Rock, Texas.
“We’ve at least been able to get back to close to normal,” head coach Rick Heller said. “Once we get these guys back we should be there. It’s definitely set us back, and it’s set us back at a really rough time, especially when the pitchers are building. You don’t want to have to start over there, and the ramp up was going really well and then kind of a little bump in the road. These guys have been really accountable and I know they’re doing their work to be ready to go. We’re going to get a chance to scrimmage tomorrow and Sunday, which is a blessing.”
Heller, who is entering his eighth season at Iowa, said players taking the initiative during the offseason strengthened the bond of a team that was already a tight-knit group.
“I think any time the players have to hold themselves accountable is going to help you and make your team stronger,” Heller said. “This team has had to do that a lot, and they were already a close-knit, strong team last year and that’s only improved in my opinion based on what they’ve gone through this fall.
“It’s not the same team, we all know that. Even though a lot of the faces are there, every year is a different year regardless of what happened that year before, good or bad. You have to put the work in to have the type of chemistry it takes to win championships and have the trust of each other and the accountability of everyone.”
Heller of a schedule: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten announced a conference-only schedule in which teams will play 44 games in 13 weeks.
Midweek series that often feature non-conference opponents have been eliminated.
Heller expressed his frustration with the schedule Tuesday.
“With all the other things that were dictated, I’m not going to lie, I don’t think any coach in the league is happy with what is being thrown at us,” Heller said. “But we’ll make the best of it and it’s over now, if 44 is the number. We were hoping we would be given a number of weeks, because we’re not playing week one and week two and maybe just schedule four games each weekend would have made the scheduling a lot easier. But that was not the case. We had to stick to the 44 games. So, 44 games in 13 weeks with 13 teams, the math doesn’t work out real well.”
Fans and streaming: Though they won’t be allowed at Duane Banks Field this year, Heller said that fans will be able to stream most, if not all, of Iowa’s games.
The only fans in attendance will be family members of players and coaches.
“I think I’m answering this correctly, that all games will be streamed,” Heller said. “I know the first weekend’s games down in Texas will be streamed. We will have an announcer who is watching the stream broadcast from his home or wherever he’s at, he won’t be traveling with us. I do believe there’s an opportunity for most, if not all, of the games to be streamed.”