Baseball never stops for the Salukis

By Ted Ward, @TedWard_DE

Even though the college baseball season ends, that doesn’t mean the game stops in the offseason.

Many SIU baseball players continue playing in NCAA-sanctioned summer leagues during the months following the school year.

“It’s a great opportunity for guys to continue to improve and play against top players from around the nation,” hitting coach Ryan Strain said. “In the fall we start placing our position players because they’re the hardest to place and it can be tough to get players in if you wait too late. Our pitchers we usually place last based on the amount of innings they threw last season, and toward the end everyone is looking for pitching.”

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The leagues consist of 44-game schedules that last from late May to early August. They use wooden bats instead of the metal ones used in the college game.

Junior outfielder Dyllin Mucha, who will play for the Richmond River Rats, said although playing nearly every day is tiring, it’s a chance to improve and play the game he loves.

“Everyone of us hopes to play in the pros someday, so just knowing this will help us achieve our dreams keeps us going,” he said. “There are days you want to give up, but the dream and love of the game is a constant reminder of why you play.”

Most players live with host families who open their homes to the players for the season and house them until August.

Freshman infielder Jared Schmidt, who will join Mucha with the River Rats, said he’s heard good things about the host families and it won’t be a new experience for him to go away from home.

“I used to travel to play baseball all the time growing up, so leaving my family to go play more ball won’t be anything different except I’ll be in a different area,” he said. “From what I’ve heard, they take care of you and treat you like one of their own kids.”

Strain said the players have some freedom on where they would like to play that summer.

“A lot of our younger guys, we try to place closer to home so they can be right there with their families,” he said. “We sit them down in the office and they tell us where they want to go and we do our best to accommodate them. The NCAA makes sure we only have a maximum of four players going to one team, so we keep that in mind and try to pair guys up.”

With the help of the summer leagues, Strain said players use the time to improve and it has paid off.

The 2016 Salukis (19-13-1, 1-2 Missouri Valley Conference) have already surpassed their 12 wins in 2015. 

“It’s really hard for guys to get better if [they’re] not going out and playing,” he said. “The biggest challenge for us coaches is sending them somewhere they’ll be able to play every day and, even if they struggle over the summer, they’re out there learning and when they come back in the fall you can see a difference.”

Junior shortstop Will Farmer is heading into his final summer and is excited for the opportunity to play more baseball.

“I’ll be playing for the DuPage Drones of the Prospect League this summer, which is a little closer to home. I haven’t had a chance to play close to my family,” the Mundelein native said. “You’re playing baseball, so you want to compete and have fun and the leagues are a great opportunity to do that.”

Farmer played last season in the Jayhawk League for the Derby Twins and said summer ball is a chance to compete but have fun, too.

“One game I nearly hit for the cycle and needed a triple to do so and was rounding second when my third base coach held me up,” he said. “I wasn’t upset, but I gave him a hard time about it for the rest of the summer, and we could joke around about it a little.”

Ted Ward can be reached at [email protected] or 618-534-3303

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