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Local pro ball players making the most of their downtime
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Local pro ball players making the most of their downtime

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For baseball fans and players, this spring has been unlike any in recent memory. The ball fields of the country sit empty as high school, college and professional ball players have all either had their seasons put on hold or canceled outright.

Luckily, for Iowa’s baseball fanciers, high school baseball practice is slated to begin in a few weeks, and Major League baseball is reportedly starting to put together preliminary plans for a season that could begin in early July. 

For those who make their living through baseball, the past couple of months have been a challenging time.

After being sent home from spring training, former NIACC baseball head coach Travis Hergert says he has been enjoying time with his wife and kids, and has been staying busy with work related to his job as assistant pitching coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies, along with watching video of the organizations prospects, just to "feel normal." 

“There is a lot of communication between myself, our upper level directors, and our pitching coaches,” Hergert said. “It could just be we’re looking at one of our pitchers and creating a solid plan for him moving forward. We’re doing stuff that we would normally be doing, we’re just doing it remotely now.”

Down in Dallas, Texas, former Newman Catholic and NIACC star Bryce Ball, now a minor league player for the Atlanta Braves, has dealt with the shutdown by watching plenty of TV and taking up a new hobby. 

“I’ve worn out the golf course and Netflix,” Ball said. “I never used to play golf, but I started playing golf about three weeks ago just to do something.”

Ball was beginning to make a name for himself when spring training was suspended. Due to his massive frame and ability to hit long home runs, Ball was nicknamed “Ball Bunyan” and “Drago” by his teammates, the latter because of his resemblance to the Russian boxer villain in the 'Rocky IV' movie.

Baseball websites and analysts were beginning to talk about Ball as the Braves first baseman of the future. 

Now, without baseball to play, Ball’s days are filled with workouts at the Dallas Baptist Rec Center, phone calls to his family back in Mason City, and new episodes of “Ozark.”

Ball was all set to begin his first full season in pro ball, after after getting drafted in the 24th round of the MLB draft, and winning the Appalachian League Player of the Year in 2019. 

“It stinks to not be able to be playing right now,” Ball said. “I was just starting to get into a groove, and then they tell you that you are going back home and we’re going to be shut down for an uncertain amount of time. We don’t know anything still. I’m afraid the longer it goes on that there is more of a chance that there won’t be a minor league season.”

There have been reports on social media that MLB is considering canceling the season due to social distancing requirements, but those reports have been met with denials from  baseball’s executives.

While Major League baseball could potentially hold much of the season without fans in the stands, that idea wouldn’t work for the minor leagues, who do not have the big TV contracts that the big league clubs have, and derive a substantial amount of their revenue from gameday sources like concessions, tickets and parking. 

Former NIACC pitcher Brandon Williamson spent last season in Everett, Washington, after getting drafted in the second round by the Seattle Mariners. Williamson echoes Ball’s worries that a minor league season might be in jeopardy, but says that he tries not to believe the sources he sees online. Instead, he is hanging out at home in Minnesota with his family, and hoping to get official word soon from the Mariners and MLB.

“Everybody is kind of staying quiet about it,” Williamson said. “The whole thing is up in the air. Nobody really knows. It sounds like MLB is definitely going to have a season, but I don’t know about the minors. I’d be surprised if we go out to our affiliates. I would expect that we are going to stay in Arizona and do something, but I don’t know.”

Back in Mason City, the Hergert family is making the most of its unexpected excess of time together. With his kids out of school, Travis and his wife Kim have been keeping their kids busy with homeschooling, family dance parties, and playing baseball in the backyard. 

“That has been fun and I’m taking full advantage of that. Even when I was at NIACC, I wasn’t home this much,” Hergert said. “It’s fun to be home and it has its challenges, but we’re making the most of it.”

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