Eric Wedge learns from John Wooden and Vince Lombardi. Alex Jackson takes inspiration from ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance”.
Different eras. Same themes.
“I watched it and I watched it with my dad again,” said Jackson, third baseman at Wichita State. “The thing with me is his leadership and the sacrifices he had to make . . . how bad he wanted to win and the sacrifices that come with that is something that really hit home.”
Leadership was high on the mind of Wedge, Wichita State’s first-year coach, when he sent his team home in mid-March. He told them to be the best version of themselves to help themselves and others find the path through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s a big part of it – the mental toughness, the discipline to stay put, make good decisions,” he said. “Be a good teammate to your family, being tough, being positive.”
Wichita State baseball ended its season with a 13-2 record and riding a 12-game win streak. The Shockers would be playing Memphis in their final regular-season series this weekend with the American Athletic Conference tournament up next.
Now, as some states are easing restrictions, Wichita State baseball players are emerging for small-group workouts and there is cautious hope for summer baseball in places such as Kansas’ Sunflower League and in Texas.
“I would love to play summer ball,” Jackson said.
Wedge is monitoring the possibilities and aware of the tentative nature of any plans.
“I’ve told them to keep working out, keep doing your thing, but don’t assume anything,” he said. “I’d rather be a day late than a day early in regard to our players and making sure they’re safe.”
Regardless, the Shockers are doing what they can to stay active and prepare for their next baseball action, whenever that may come.
Pitcher Preston Snavely, when Kansas started its phased opening in late April, joined teammate Aaron Bechtel and former Shocker Keylan Killgore in Bechtel’s backyard in Wichita to throw bullpens.
“It was great,” Snavely said. “It wasn’t so much that bullpen, it was hanging out with some of the guys you’re missing out on. It’s good to get out and see people you haven’t seen in a while.”
Pitcher Tommy Barnhouse, who lives with teammates Liam Eddy and Aaron Haase in Wichita, equipped their place with his weight set imported from his home in Kansas City. He expects to join his teammates in Bechtel’s backyard soon.
“I haven’t really been throwing until lately when we heard about the possibility of summer ball coming back,” Barnhouse said. “Now I’m transitioning into getting myself ready to pitch.”
Jackson, at home in Dallas, lives near a baseball field he can use for hitting and fielding practice.
“It is hard staying sane with everything going on,” he said. “I found ways to stay active and keep myself in shape. Working out, hitting, ground balls, sprints.”
The pandemic interrupted Wedge’s debut season just as the Shockers started to attract a bit of national attention. A weekend series against Nebraska, ultimately canceled, at Eck Stadium offered home fans an attractive reason to check things out.
Wedge’s message hasn’t changed from March to May, whether his players suit up this summer or not.
“This was not in the playbook, not in the coaches manual,” Wedge said. “The best thing you can do is keep your house in order. If this decision goes this way, we’re prepared for that.”
Wedge read about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi and UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. While neither worked through a pandemic, their philosophies encourage Wedge. Wooden’s well-known devotion to teaching his players how to put on socks and tie basketball shoes correctly – to avoid blisters – is one example.
“First practice – first thing he would do is check your hair,” Wedge said. “Then he would sit down and he would specifically show you how to put your shoe on and how to tie your shoelaces. That leads into a bigger deal. It’s like in the military where the first thing you do is make your bed. They accomplished something, even if it’s just making their bed. It leads to a different mindset of learning, developing and getting better.”
Due to ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 virus, the American Athletic Conference has suspended all spring sporting events until further notice.