Penn baseball doesn't waste time worrying about what is out of its control.
The new class of freshmen is trying to find its place on the team virtually, with guidance from players like junior pitcher Kevin Eaise and sophomore outfielder Justin Carboni. Both veterans believe that building community is the key to a successful season.
The players are trying to take this unprecedented year one week at a time because a new season start date is entirely out of their hands. Athletes keep in shape using makeshift gyms, local parks, and guidance from Penn's strength and conditioning staff. But the lack of a specific timeline poses a unique challenge for the Quakers.
“The confusing thing is that [the coaches] don’t even know about a new season start date,” Carboni said. “They said, 'Keep your head down, keep working hard, we’ll let you know when the decision is made.'”
Despite being left in the dark, the Quakers are trying to make something out of it by redirecting their focus to team atmosphere and individual training.
“We haven’t had much contact with the coaches, but we’re doing as much as we can,” Eaise said. "If we’re allowed back on campus, we’d be able to see the freshmen and get to see them play. We want to build a new team culture because we lost captains last year.”
Building that team culture isn’t as easy in a virtual world as it is in person. Carboni misses going on the road, staying in a hotel, and bonding with the team during dinners. Since freshmen can’t have that same experience, team veterans are trying their best to replicate it.
“We have a lot of the same guys from last year, so there’s still that chemistry,” Eaise said. “I actually met a few freshmen, but they still have to make their impression on the team. Some local guys are living on campus and a couple [freshmen] came over this weekend. Virtually, we’ve been doing Zoom calls with the team once a week with the positions. Obviously, it’s not the same energy, but we try.”
With a team as large as 37 players, not all of them are fortunate enough to live on campus and share a closer connection.
“Our coaches informed us we’re trying to reduce transmission. If you don’t have to come on campus, you can limit that spread. It wasn’t worth sacrificing myself when I can stay at home and train here at my gym where there’s no risk at all,” Carboni said. “I’m honestly the furthest away, but I know most of the team are together living in baseball houses. They’re quarantined, staying safe and not going out irresponsibly. I’m still meeting a lot of freshmen for virtual calls and staying in touch.”
Until the entire team can get together again, the athletes are trying to adapt to training individually.
“It’s definitely a little different with all the weight rooms being closed. We built our own makeshift gyms, and we’re throwing at the local parks,” Eaise said. “The guys at home are doing what they would do over the offseason.”
While in some ways it feels like an offseason, the players have a support system within Penn Athletics, and they use it to their advantage.
“I’m working out at my gym with a couple of football players, and we push each other. We go to the track a lot,” Carboni said. “I personally don’t have all the equipment; what I do have is a bar and weights. That means I’m able to complete the slats and deadlifts from the strength and conditioning program, but the ones I’m not able to do, I supplement. Trainers are easy to talk to, give us plans that work better for us, and help us stay on top of everything.”
Having mastered their team chemistry and individual training, the Quakers can look towards the future. Though there are many unknowns, the team acknowledges that this adversity will help them next season.
“Last year we had high aspirations and a good group of guys,” Eaise said. “It’ll be hard to tell how far we can get until we can see the freshmen on the field, but we have the talent to compete.”
Carboni knows exactly what will be expected of the current class of freshmen when the team can finally practice together.
“Last year, we were extremely optimistic. We trained out of our minds during the offseason. We were really looking forward to a great season,” Carboni said. “Given the circumstances, it wasn’t enough.”
Penn baseball's training and team building should be rewarding if and when a new season is announced soon. Until then, Zoom calls, lifting weights, and pitching at the park will keep the Quakers focused on their goals.