NIU baseball players practice discipline to stay fit for next season

How COVID-19 cut their season short and is testing their motivation

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Jan Salmon | Southeast Arrow

Matt Boecker, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB — The NIU baseball players continue training physically and mentally, as their focus has shifted to next season with extended eligibility for seniors and other disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior first baseman Jordan Larson and senior catcher Jake Dunham said continued training requires discipline and mental toughness with the satisfaction of playing the game being taken away. 

“It’s not easy to stay motivated,” Dunham said. “With [next season] so far away, it’s easy to say when you’re getting tired, ‘Who cares if I take today and tomorrow off? I’m not playing for six months.’”

Larson said it was a morale booster when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility March 30 to spring athletes. It provided a light at the end of the tunnel, he said. Both he and Dunham said they plan to return next season

“When [the NCAA] started having talks of us getting our year back [and] the possibility of being able to have summer ball, that motivates you to stay in shape,” Larson said. “If we do get summer baseball, I don’t want to be completely out of shape and not last throughout the summer. I want to be ready to go whenever this is done and hit the ground running.”

Senior first baseman Jordan Larson and Mac, named after the Mid-American Conference, at Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa County, Wisconsin.
Senior first baseman Jordan Larson and Mac, named after the Mid-American Conference, at Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa County, Wisconsin.

The summer baseball league Larson is preparing for is the Northwoods League, a collegiate league in Wisconsin. The NWL gives players the opportunity to catch the eye of a professional league scout. The league has stated it plans to start the season as scheduled on May 26, but continues to monitor COVID-19 and its potential impact on the season.

Larson said to prepare for the potential season, he’s been running with his dog, Mac, to keep his cardiovascular endurance high.

He’s also been following the workouts that Sal Annoreno, Assistant Director of Sports Performance at NIU, sends the players. Annoreno sends players home workout videos based on the equipment players have at home. 

Annoreno’s also been sending videos helping to combat the mental hurdles of working out from home during the pandemic. NIU baseball’s Twitter account has posted some of the videos from Annoreno. 

“I’m working right now, and a lot of that is moving heavy boxes and stuff like that to stay in shape that way,” Larson said. “I’m just doing what I can because I’m too bored just sitting at home, so moving around and being active is about the best thing I can do right now.”

Dunham said he has been trying to prevent his training routine from becoming redundant. He’s been able to access a small Plainfield-area hitting facility to get batting practice in, and an old high school coach has also allowed him to use the school’s field for workouts as well. 

“Little things like that to help me from being too monotonous have been really helpful,” Dunham said. “I was actually on our field yesterday, and it’s been really nice to have a couple people that have your back.”