The Thomas Nelson baseball team holds some of its indoor practices at the Virginia Baseball Academy.
The toughest opponent the Thomas Nelson baseball team faced in 2020 was coronavirus, which forced the Gators to end their season early. A year later, the team is struggling early against another tough opponent: the weather.
“We had 44 games on the schedule, and so far (nine) have been rained out,” coach Todd Barker said, adding two more were canceled because of coronavirus concerns regarding an opponent’s players. “If we play 35 games, I’m going to be happy.”
He stressed being able to adjust on the fly will be key, for players and the team’s supporters.
“Schedules will be flexible, so anytime people look at a schedule … double-check all those things before you come out (to a game),” he said.
The season got underway Sunday, Feb. 21 with a doubleheader at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, N.C. Despite a pair of losses, Barker said the team came back from the trip with a number of positives.
“Just from the standpoint of being able to get on the field again, I think the guys pulled a lot from it,” he said. “We learned a lot about where we are and what we need to do. We established a baseline.”
A scheduled home doubleheader against Wake Tech CC on Feb. 27 was rained out; however, the team split a midweek doubleheader against Mid-Atlantic Christian, making its record 1-3. Barker is hoping to make up Saturday’s two games Wednesday, and has a game against Paul D. Camp scheduled for Thursday, but the site will be determined by this week’s weather and field conditions. The Gators travel to Maryland on March 7 for two games vs. the Community College of Baltimore County.
When the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the 2020 season at the end of March after just 15 games, Barker started looking ahead to 2021. He began recruiting, and continued that into the summer. The team started back up again in late summer with conditioning and workouts. Those workouts stretched into December, with breaks for Thanksgiving and then Christmas. The players resumed practices in early January, working out indoors and outdoors at the Virginia Baseball Academy on LaSalle Avenue. In the fall, indoor practices were held at Vertex Performance in Newport News.
“The kids have worked extremely hard,” Barker said. “Everybody’s been chomping at the bit trying to get some games in and get back to some semblance or normalcy and what they’re used to as far as baseball goes.”
Angela Jackson, the College’s coordinator of athletics, said the plan all along was to have a season.
“We were told the latter part of January we would be able to go ahead with our season based on following safety protocol,” she said, adding she consulted with Betsy Harrison (dean of Student Services) and Paul Long (dean of Public Safety, Allied Health and Human Services) to make sure College, NJCAA and CDC policies were followed.
Barker said when players are on the field, masks are optional, but when they are in the dugout, they are mandatory. The team’s travel arrangements also have been affected.
To have social distancing on trips, the team is using more vans and charter busses. Also, instead of stopping for meals, they are bringing their food.
Since last season was cut short because of unusual circumstances, the NJCAA ruled players did not lose any eligibility. Barker said 12 players from last year are among the 28 on this year’s roster.
“We had three players that left the program because they had finished their associate’s degree and moved on,” he said. “Everyone who’s working on their associate degree, even if last year would have been their second year, all reworked their schedule to make sure they could come back and play.”
Barker, in just his second season with the Gators, expects his team to score a lot of runs, and he noted his defense is strong. He also strengthened his pitching staff.
“We should be able to compete game in and game out,” he said. “I don’t know how many games we’ll win, but we’ll be in pretty much every game we play. … That’s my first step, just being competitive every game.”
He noted the team is streaming all of their games this year, and they also are available on the GameChanger app. For the team’s schedule, go to https://tncc.edu/ife/athletics/baseball-schedule. But again, double-check before heading out to any games. Home games are scheduled for Peninsula Catholic High School and Warhill Sports Complex.