Baseball players are creatures of habit. The ups and downs of the game are tempered by the same routine every day.
Last year, that was tested as COVID restrictions severely limited what you could and couldn’t do and when you could do it.
“It felt like it was a sprint every day,” Harrisburg Senators manager Tripp Keister said. “It never really slowed down because of the rules and the hours you could be at the ballpark. It was tough.”
“Last year, there was a lot of uncertainty,” infielder Jackson Cluff added. “Even in minor league baseball, we talk about how the teams are random, and you can move from one roster to another just like that. But there is a sense of camaraderie that still needs to happen in a locker room. There were a lot of people who didn’t know each other trying to get to know personalities.”
But as the Senators open their 2022 campaign on Friday evening at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona against the Curve, the hope is most of that changes back to the familiar this season.
“What a difference a year makes,” Keister said. “This time last year, we had no idea what we were going to be able to do. There were so many unknowns. This year I feel more comfortable that it’s going to be a normal season.”
There are still COVID-related rules to be followed, but they are more relaxed and less stringent than a year ago.
“It’s a little bit easier to socialize and spend time together,” Cluff said. “There are fewer restrictions on when we can show up to the ballpark and when we can leave. That just plays a big role in being comfortable with your teammates, trusting each other, and getting to watch how people go about their business.”
Coming off a 42-76 record last year, where they batted .228 and scored a league-low 432 runs, the skipper sees brighter times ahead for this squad.
“I had tremendous respect for the guys last year,” Keister said. “We did struggle. Look at the record. We struggled in every facet. But they gave me everything they had. It’s hard to get beat. In the minor leagues, they say wins don’t matter, but they do for morale, for coming to the park every day.”
“I think last year’s offensive group was a work in progress all year. I feel really good about where we are coming into the season.”
And with that optimism coupled with a Major League team firmly entrenched in rebuild mode around superstar Juan Soto, players have to realize they could find themselves on the precipice of realizing their dreams sooner rather than later.
“If you’re this close in an organization where we are right now, and you don’t see you have a tremendous opportunity in front of you, I don’t know what to tell you,” Keister said. “Get hot. Go put together a great month and see where it takes you.”
Notes: Ronald Herrera gets the Opening Night nod as the right-hander squares off against Altoona’s Carmen Mlodzinski…the rest of the rotation follows as: Richard Guasch, Cole Henry, Steven Fuentes, and Evan Lee…minor league free agents Wilson Garcia, Mitch Longo, and Rudy Martin should all add a veteran presence both in the clubhouse and in the lineup.