Veteran’s Field at Riverside Park has sat idle for two years.
COVID-19 restrictions wiped out the spring 2020 high school and summer American Legion baseball seasons.
Tuesday, the lights will be back on at Riverside as Janesville Parker opens up the season at home against Beloit Memorial.
Parker coach Kerry Michaels is eager to see his young team in action, but more important, is simply glad to be back on the diamond after a year hiatus.
“More than anything, it’s going to be nice to go out and compete and have it count,” Michaels said. “Everybody is excited to just get back to playing ball.
“I’ve tried to preach being patient with everyone, myself included, because so much has happened and still could happen, but it’s also important to just go out and have fun and enjoy the game.”
Parker is tentatively scheduled for a 24-game season, with 18 Big Eight conference games and six nonconference games.
Parker’s roster includes 17 players who are still involved in an alternate fall sport, making the first week of practice conditions less than ideal with so many shuffling between two sports.
Parker finished 12-14 in Michaels’ first season in 2019 and advanced to sectional play after upsetting state-ranked Janesville Craig in a regional title game.
MIchaels said youth will be served up the middle with three sophomores and a junior starting at shortstop, second base, catcher and center field but that seniors will dominate the pitching staff.
Leading the way on the mound will be seniors Dylan King, Sam O’Leary and John Simons. King and Simons are right-handers.
O’Leary—the football team’s starting quarterback—is a left-hander.
“We’ve tried to preach to them go out there and not try to do anything out of the ordinary,” Michaels said. “They’re not going to be big strikeout pitchers, so they need to challenge hitters, throw strikes and let their defense make plays behind them.”
Senior Ty Smith and sophomore Caleb Wilson are also expected to log innings on the mound.
When not pitching, King is expected to play first base, Simons third base and O’Leary left field.
The middle of the young but talented infield features sophomores Tayelin Sihabouth at shortstop and Tre Miller at second.
“Those two have played a lot of baseball together and should be a solid combination up the middle,” Michaels said. “They’ll also be at the top of our (batting) order, where we hope to take advantage of their speed. I think good things can happen if we can get those two on base.”
Junior Trace Jacobson starts at catcher, with Wilson getting the nod in center field.
Braden Youderan, a junior, is the leading candidate to start in right field.
Although eager to get the season started, Michaels says challenges remain. Players and coaches must wear masks at all times, and dugouts will not be available for use as of right now. Players will socially distance in bleachers or along the fence during the game and when up to bat.
“It is what it is, and I think everybody understands that,” Michaels said. “It’s certainly better than the alternative, and that’s not playing at all.
“This is a season where you’re going to have to learn on the fly. The first couple of weeks, I’m just going to let the guys swing the bats and get their timing down.”