Boys’ baseball swings into their unique 2021 season

Mia Kessinger

Update: an earlier version of this article said “High school athletic protocol prevents Redwood from officially training together before tryouts in March, so the team practices as one of head coach Mike Firenzi’s club teams” at the beginning of paragraph two.

After triumphant 2018 and 2019 seasons, Redwood’s baseball team was headed towards a three-peat for the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) Championship during the 2020 season. However, it was cut short due to the breakout of COVID-19, preventing the team from achieving that goal. Now, although the virus is still spreading in Marin, the baseball team has started practicing in order to attain excellency in MCALs and in the state — all while strictly following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

High school athletic protocol prevents Redwood from officially training together before tryouts in March, so some of the players practice on a club team called North Bay Yankees not affiliated with Redwood. They practice twice a week while adhering to regulations by wearing masks at all times and by splitting into cohorts of infielders, outfielders and pitchers/catchers. Although the boys all practice at the same time, they avoid overlap between groups unless they are having intrasquad scrimmages, when they take extra care to keep their masks above their noses, according to senior captain Ben Cohen, a Pomona Pitzer commit. 

“The only times we are less than six feet apart are when we are hitting and there is a catcher behind us or when there is a runner on first [base] who is close to the first basemen. Those are the times when we are most careful and are sure our masks are on correctly. We also avoid high fives to make sure we are safe — we take it really seriously so that we can have a season,” Cohen said.

Leading off second base, senior Mikey Bender looks to steal second base.

Although they are unable to fully practice together and cannot scrimmage other teams, the team is lucky to even be practicing at all, according to Firenzi. Additionally, by holding unofficial practices prior to the start of the season, it gives them an advantage over other teams who are not training.

“We have a basic philosophy that we try to be better than everyone else by practicing more and harder than our opponents. [The pandemic] has created the type of situation where you could do two things: you could complain about wearing a mask and being six feet apart, or you could take it and be grateful that you are even able to play,” Firenzi said.

Adding on to the already stressful season, the team lost eleven seniors last year along with their ability to hold bonding activities, making it more difficult to establish a strong team dynamic. Because of this, Cohen feels that it is more important for the team to get to know each other during their limited practice times.

“We are trying to talk to the new members as much as possible and are throwing with different guys in order to get to know them. If we establish a bond now so we are comfortable calling each other out later, that will really help us when we are in a game scenario where we need to keep each other accountable,” Cohen said.

Furthermore, junior player Charlie Welch believes fewer opportunities to practice as a team have pushed the boys to practice more individually.

“[COVID-19] is definitely making it hard to develop a tight-knit bond, but at the same time I can see how the extra time [to practice by ourselves] has paid off because our skills are progressing even with fewer practices,” Welch said.

Because the team has been so successful in the past, their expectation is to win MCALs, but they also want to win the state championship tournament. Cohen speculates that by continuing to train for the season, even throughout the pandemic, they should be able to maintain their success within the league and even the state.

“We don’t have as much experience as a team than we did in years past, but our coach teaches us in a way so that we are prepared,” Cohen said. “He hates to lose more than he loves to win, so we feed off of his energy and we are unstoppable. Because we are going the extra mile to practice now, we should be ready to beat anyone by the time March rolls around.”