Unlike most other athletes, high school baseball players had options to continue playing this summer after the school seasons were canceled in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But even though players were able to play a few travel tournaments, it has still taken time for them to get back into the hang of live baseball games after such a long layoff. That’s why local players are glad to have the Junior Mustangs program this fall.
The Junior Mustangs are a development program in the Martinsville Mustangs organization for baseball players in 8th-12th grade. The program was able to have three teams this fall – two younger teams called the Racers and Ponies, and an older squad for high school juniors and seniors. The hope is the program can develop players who could eventually play for the Coastal Plain League squad that calls Hooker Field home during the summer.
Until the time comes when these players are old enough to fill the real Mustangs roster, they’re using this summer as a chance to make up for lost time this spring.
“Right now I’m not really getting to play so this is a really good opportunity just to get on the field and get some reps in and play,” said Junior Mustangs player Addison Clark. Clark is a rising senior at Carlisle and is committed to play at VMI in 2021.
Clark said he was able to play a few travel tournaments here and there over the summer, but prior to Friday’s Mustangs opener it had been about a month since he played in a live game.
“It’s just good to get out here,” he said.
The Mustangs played games on Friday and Saturday this weekend at Hooker Field, and will continue playing on Friday nights for the next month.
The older Junior Mustangs team has been practicing two or three nights a week for nearly a month, the most time on the field most players have seen since February. There have been many challenges of returning to playing that much baseball.
“After about a week or two you start to knock the rust off and get back into the hang of it,” Clark said. “I would say the biggest challenge is just going to practice every day and getting back into the groove of coming to practice every day.”
“Probably like three or four weeks of playing honestly because it’s just hard to get back in a rhythm, especially pitching,” said Mustangs pitcher Garret Kangas.
“Just getting my timing down for hitting, since we hadn’t seen living pitching in so long. I was hitting good in cages but on the field it was hard to transfer it to the game,” said Mustangs utility player Colby Cunningham.
Unlike his travel team where he mostly focuses on pitching, Kangas said he’s taking the opportunity this fall to get a chance to play the field and maybe get some at-bats as well. Kangas is a rising senior committed to Campbell University next fall.
Cunningham and Kangas, who’ll both be playing for Carlisle this spring, said getting to play for a team of local players has been a welcome change this fall. Both play for travel teams based in North Carolina with players from up and down the east coast.
“It’s nice to play with kids that I’ve known for a long time,” Kangas said. “A lot of these kids I’ve played with for a long time so that’s great.”
“I think it’s going to be really fun because we get to play with a lot of kids we play against in high school and we get to compete against them all the time so it’s going to be really fun,” Cunningham said.
More than anything, players are using this fall to get ready for a school ball season they desperately missed playing last spring.
“I think it’ll help a lot for that because the more we get to play and stay into it the better we’ll be for high school,” Cunningham said.
“Just more games, you get more reps and get better,” Clark said.
Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com
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