On the morning of what was supposed to be Opening Day in Major League Baseball and the day before his team would begin Big Ten play, IU baseball head coach Jeff Mercer was without his players.
There was no baseball that Thursday as Mercer sat for a teleconference. No professional teams beginning their season, no preparation for the Hoosiers in advance of their weekend series.
IU beat the University of Cincinnati 6-2 on March 11. The season was washed away the next day, and Mercer hasn’t seen his team in person since. He said he had been following the news closely and had a sense of what was likely coming in the days leading up to the official decision.
“I was concerned for the season,” Mercer said. “It didn’t come as a great shock when it all went the way that it did.”
The strong start for sophomore outfielder Grant Richardson was wiped away, who will finish the season with a .424 batting average, five home runs and 17 RBIs. He led the team in all of those categories.
The emergence of sophomore pitcher Gabe Bierman to begin the season was wiped away, his steps toward cementing his place at the top of the rotation are paused. He finished with a 2.45 ERA, 2-1 record and 24 strikeouts in 22 innings.
Mercer said that everyone on the team is healthy. That includes fifth-year senior Grant Macciocchi, who was injured running to first base on his first and now only at bat of the season. He was cleared to return on March 12, the day the season was canceled.
Seniors like Macciocchi have been in a holding pattern of sorts, awaiting a March 30 vote from the NCAA on the potential for granting an extra year of eligibility. Multiple reports have stated that spring sport athletes are likely to be granted an extra year.
Mercer said he hasn’t treated any of his seniors like they are leaving. He’s had short conversations with them but hasn’t yet discussed if they’d like to return for a potential extra year.
“My personal opinion is that I would like to see all of the athletes receive an additional year of eligibility,” Mercer said. “To not have that year of eligibility restored would be really difficult to endure. You only get so many years to play a sport. The vast majority of players are not going to make their living playing professional baseball.”
With another year likely in their future, the players have had to get creative. The gyms are closed and so are the fields. While communicating with their coaches, the players have started to build their own workouts from home. Junior outfielder Elijah Dunham posted a video of him hitting in a batting cage at home. Some players practiced hitting in the Memorial Stadium parking lot.
The coaches have put together individualized workout plans for the players. Mercer said the team is trying to mimic a practice as much as they can from their own homes. Mercer has used technology in his program, which is something he said he's proud of. But he's still trying to figure out how to execute that now.
“If I want to do a Zoom or Skype session with a group of hitters, is that going to be allowed or not?” Mercer said. "Or do I have to pre-record something and upload to their profiles? Can I work in real time or do I have to do it previously and push it out? All those things I would do in the past, those are going to be more relied on.”
Mercer said he is also planning to create a plan for his players when they begin playing for summer teams, should summer seasons still take place. Summer baseball is not focused on winning, but instead on developing players to return stronger to their college teams. Mercer emphasized the importance of the summer season, especially this year, with such a short spring season.
“If you want an excuse, there’ll be an excuse,” Mercer said. “It’s just like everything else in life. If you want to take the easy way out, if you want to complain and moan about things, it will be easy to do that and find a way to not be good.”