Baseball: Hoping they don't miss another spring season, seniors trying to stay sharp
For the first time in two years, Reece Lawler put his Warren baseball uniform on Friday.
A 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander, the senior stood outside the Blue Devils' varsity field, pulled his cap down and, despite cool air, looked ready to unleash one of his 90-mph fastballs.
"It feels good," Lawler said with a smile, tugging on his No. 14 jersey while trying to smooth a wrinkle. "It's different. It's nice. I'm just hoping we can get out here. I've been looking forward to it for a while."
Alas, none of Lawler's teammates were around Friday. No opposing team was either. He sported his uniform for a photo only, not knowing when, if ever, he'll get the chance to wear it again. With the IHSA spring sports season on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lawler is in jeopardy of missing out on playing for Warren for the second year in a row.
Last year, after an All-North Suburban Conference and all-area season as a sophomore, he opted to play the Perfect Game spring league with his Hitters travel team out of Wisconsin. That made him ineligible to compete with the high school team.
"I had a really good summer before last spring," Lawler said. "I got really close with my travel team, so I just wanted to stay with those guys mostly and compete with them through the spring."
A funny thing happened to Warren without its ace. The Blue Devils went a program-best 32-5, sprinkling in a 23-game winning streak, en route to winning a Class 4A regional championship for the fifth year in a row.
Lawler had no regrets.
"I had a lot buddies on the team," Lawler said. "I still went (to games) and supported them. It stunk not being a part of it, but I made the decision to stay with my travel team through last spring. I was happy for all my (Warren) guys. It was awesome."
Last week, after Lawler and his teammates found out that spring sports were suspended for at least two weeks, the team got together on its own and went to a local field. The Blue Devils practiced for more than two hours in comfortable weather. Lawler, who's also been talking to MLB teams, threw a bullpen and pitched off the mound, too.
Now, the Blue Devils, and all spring sports teams, wait. The Blue Devils think they can be even better this year.
"Everybody's committed," Lawler said. "We all want it."
Armed and ready
For 12 months, Willowbrook senior Donny Ward, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound righty with top-of-the-rotation stuff, stuck to a game plan of not pitching.
A sprained UCL in his right elbow suffered in the summer of 2018, prior to his junior year cost him his spring high school season. Fortunately for Ward, he didn't require Tommy John surgery. He appeared in one game last season, as a catcher, but essentially spent the whole season being a good teammate.
He feels great, he says, and is ready for the season.
"I was really excited to just go out there and see what I was able to do still and see how all the working out in the offseason paid off since I had to miss a whole season," Ward said. "It was still fun being on varsity, but nothing beats going out there and pitching on the mound. I was just looking to get back to that, getting back to my sophomore year where I was able to go out there and dominate."
Equally rough for Ward is the interruption of routine. The excessive downtime in the last week has been a challenge.
"It's been rough," Ward said. "Not only because there's a chance we'll miss our season but also the fact that were stuck inside. We can't go to practice. We can't do anything. I'm so used to going out to practice every day after school, working out, getting my reps in, getting ready for the season, and now our season might not even happen. It's frustrating because we can't do anything about it. It's just a waiting game."
Senior season, finally
A varsity baseball player since his freshman year and an all-area player as a junior, Vernon Hills' Tony Brown missed his senior campaign last year due to a religious retreat in Puerto Rico.
"Because I've grown up with a lot of the guys from last year, it was probably that camaraderie and just knowing everybody on the team, knowing little things that they do, that friendship that I missed," Brown said.
Brown's senior year may have been delayed, but he put together a strong season for the Cougars in basketball this past winter and is ready to finish strong. Signed to play baseball for Furman University, he's been working on building up that camaraderie with his 2020 baseball teammates.
Then came last week, when the Cougars learned that spring break trips were canceled and spring sports were suspended until further notice.
"As soon as I heard that news, my heart just dropped," Brown said. "I talked to everybody on the team, and they said they felt the exact same way. My eyes started tearing up. It's your senior year. You don't want to miss your senior year in the sport that you absolutely love."
No one knows what's next, if there will even be an abbreviated spring season.
"We're definitely hoping," Brown said. "We're all practicing on our own separately. We're texting in our group chat every single day, working out and just making sure we're ready just in case we do get the opportunity to go out there.
"As a team," Brown added, "I think we will be prepared if we come back. But if we don't, it'll be pretty devastating for us."