Though the shock of their abruptly canceled season still lingers, Penn baseball has remained connected and active, despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The Red and Blue were picked as the preseason Ivy League title favorites for the first time in 25 years, led by five returning All-Ivy players, along with an impressive freshman class, headed by Ivy Rookie of the Year frontrunner Owen Coady. The Quakers (3-5) boasted a League-best .292 batting average and 4.09 ERA midway through their spring break series in Florida. Graduating senior ace Christian Scafidi continued to dominate, allowing no earned runs through 15 innings, while rising senior Eduardo Malinowski ranked sixth in the nation with a .471 batting average, adding two home runs and 10 RBIs.
The Quakers looked to rebound from a three-game losing streak with a win against Florida Atlantic, but news of the cancellation broke minutes before the first pitch.
“It was another one of our midweek games, so we went through our whole pre-game batting practice,” Malinowski said. “I remember I was putting on my spikes before coach Yurkow told everyone to hurry up and get on the left-field line.”
After informing the team that their season was canceled, coach David Yurkow encouraged his seniors to cherish their final moments with each other.
“We basically just hung out in the dugout for about 30 minutes, and there were seniors playing catch for the last time. Everyone was just silent. People were crying, myself included because it was a great group of guys we were about to lose,” Malinowski said.
Though Penn baseball consists of student-athletes from more than 10 states, the team has been able to stay in touch through group chats and Zoom calls every Friday morning with their coaches and trainers. For Malinowski, social distancing restrictions in Texas haven’t forced him to make significant changes to his workout routine.
“My trainer opened up his garage, so he lets some of his players come to workout there," Malinoswki said. "I’ve also had access to a field at my high school, so I’ve been able to go out there to throw, hit, and take ground balls."
However, not everyone has had access to trainers, so Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning Dr. Jeremy Weeks has designed different programs based on the equipment each athlete has access to. For example, rising sophomore Ben Miller has had to adapt to working with limited equipment.
“I’ve had a lot less variety in my workouts, relying on bodyweight exercises and those that don’t require a lot of equipment,” Miller said.
While the players have found different ways to stay active, their plans to play competitively over the summer are in jeopardy. College baseball players across the country compete in various amateur summer collegiate leagues around the US and Canada in front of scouts. These leagues generally last for about two months from early June, but many have already announced cancellations. However, Malinowski, who plans on playing in the Coastal Plain League in North Carolina, still has hope that he’ll be able to play.
“We were supposed to start in the first week of June, but now they pushed it back to July 1," Malinowski said."They’re cramming the schedule a little bit and trying to fit in as many games while we’re out there. So my league’s still on, which is a good thing.”
With key graduating seniors Christian Scafidi, Peter Matt, and Mitchell Holcomb transferring to Notre Dame, Duke, and Rice, respectively, the Quakers will have to rely on their younger players to produce. Looking ahead into next season, the preseason Ivy League title favorites remain confident that they can bring the trophy home.
“We’ve had plenty of young players step up, so I’m confident with the team moving forward,” Malinowski said. “For the seniors that are transferring, it’s good for them because they’re moving on and get to enjoy a different experience, but I’m confident with our team. Hopefully, we can get that Ivy League Championship next year instead.”