March 20 would have been the first game of the season for Oak Park and River Forest High School’s baseball team. However, with the 2020 campaign suspended due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, the Huskies will not be able to build off their third-place finish at state last year
Despite the disappointment of not getting to play out the spring, the team is staying united through, what head coach Joe Parenti is calling, the “OPRF Huskies Baseball Movie Night Series.” Parenti has browsed through YouTube and found old footage of previous state championship games the program has played in over the years. So far, the team has watched the 1981, 2001, 2008 and 2012 state games, while also viewing the documentary on last year’s team that OPRF alum Jake Fine produced.
“We are trying to be as creative as possible,” said Parenti. “I have been shooting a text to the team’s group chat every day. But that’s really where we are at right now. We remain hopeful we can play this season but we have to be patient and wait this out.”
Baseball programs around the country have especially been hit hard by COVID-19. Not being able to throw for weeks on end is detrimental to the arm strength players have developed in the offseason. While Illinois High School Association Executive Director Craig Anderson recently stated that he hasn’t given up on having a spring season and he discussed the possibility of having the season extend into the summer, weeks of lost progress would be difficult to make up.
The Huskies aren’t looking at it that way.
OPRF senior and starting centerfielder Alan Brown remains hopeful that if the season were to begin, the team would be able to pick up where it left off.
“If baseball were to come back in a month, I would have faith that me and my teammates would be just fine,” said Brown. “We would definitely have to practice a little but before that we worked so hard in the offseason to prepare for this year. We have some time off but we have to remain prepared if the season starts up again.”
Parenti echoed that same idea saying that, at this point in the season, pitchers would be on inning restrictions anyway due to cold temperatures.
“These guys have travel seasons too, so you don’t want to burn them out at the beginning of the year,” said Parenti. “But if the season were to start today, we would have to start over to some extent. Maybe these guys can throw a ball off a brick wall of the side of their house or something, but realistically we would have to run out guys 30 pitches at a time.”
Although they aren’t allowed to hold baseball-related workouts, Brown said the team is still doing workouts at home to stay in shape. Former OPRF freshman baseball assistant coach and current assistant coach for the Huskies’ football team, Rashad Singletary, recently did a pushup and situp challenge with the rest of the athletic department and its players during the sports hiatus.
“Everyday, we are doing something,” said Brown. “Whether it is pushups, situps, wall sits, or going on a run outside, those are things that can keep you motivated. I personally have a workout that I do at home and I’ve been watching videos on YouTube of players that you see in big colleges and major league teams. That’s what keeps me motivated and I know my teammates are doing whatever they can to stay prepared as well.”