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THE ARMS RACE

If there’s a baeball season, stress on pitchers a concern

Webster City pitcher Tyler Olson delivers to the plate during a Class 3A substate game against Humboldt last July. Olson is hopeful he will be able to return to the mound this summer, but he knows his workload will be limited due to the lack of prep time in the offseason. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — This is kind of like putting the base hit before the actual pitch, but there are legitimate concerns that prep baseball coaches all across the state hold as they wait to see if they’ll be allowed to go back to work next month.

A decision on the upcoming baseball and softball seasons from Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union is expected by June 1. But in the meantime, baseball coaches are wondering what the season will look like if it does come to fruition. And at the top of the list of worries is the preparedness of players who have been on hiatus since the middle of March.

Specifically, can the stress put on the arms of baseball players, in particular pitchers, hold up without the proper preseason work?

“I’ll be honest, that’s a huge concern of mine,” Webster City head baseball coach Adison Kehoe said. “The big thing I’ve tried to express to parents when they say Johnny has been outside playing catch every day is that, well, that’s great, but there’s a difference between playing catch and stress throwing. Whether it be on the mound or a simulated bullpen of 20 pitches where I need you to hit these spots.”

In a typical season that begins with preseason practice in early May, Webster City pitchers normally begin building their arms in January. If teams are given the go ahead to begin practicing on June 1 — and that’s a big if at this point — with a target date of June 15 for games, that puts a lot of pressure on coaches to formulate plans to minimize the risk with pitchers.

South Hamilton head baseball coach Kyle Galetich (right) talks to Tycin Barkema during a Class 2A district game against Roland-Story last July. Galetich says dealing with pitching concerns is an issue he’ll welcome if it means there will be a season this summer. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“I know a lot of these kids think they can go 80-plus pitches right out of the chute because that’s what they did last year,” Kehoe said. “But, me personally, I’m not going to put a kid in harm’s way just to win a game right now. That’s something I’ve never dealt with before, so that will constantly have to be relayed to the boys.”

South Hamilton head baseball coach Kyle Galetich agrees that stringent monitoring on pitchers will need to be put in place during the unique season. But if the choice is to cancel the season or alter game plans, he’ll choose the latter every time.

“I would rather have a season and know I’m going to have to use two to three pitchers every game,” Galetich said. “Nobody in their right mind is going to send somebody out to pitch five or six innings right away. You may have to start off with two or three innings.”

If the season would get under way on June 15, the likelihood is the regular season would consist of approximately 15 games before the postseason in July. Kehoe sees no scenario where he would want to play more games.

“In my eyes, especially without being able to be around the kids, I would think 12 to 15 games before districts would be plenty,” Kehoe said. “I think we would play each conference team once and then pick up three to four non-conference games.”

WCHS junior right-hander Tyler Olson is a returning Class 3A first-team all-state selection. He put together an 11-1 record with a 0.68 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 712⁄3 innings of work in 2019.

Efficiency was Olson’s biggest strength last summer. Always around the plate, he was able to work through games without putting significant strain on his arm. But he concedes a shortened season with just two weeks to prepare would be challenging.

“It takes a couple of months, if not more, to get ready for the season,” Olson said. “You can’t just start pitching off the mound. You have to work your way up … it’s a process.”

Knowing all of that, Olson is still a competitor and says he would try to push the envelope if it was up to him.

“I’m obviously going to try to get as many innings as I can,” he said.

Of course, all of this is just conjecture at this point. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the spring season and could do the same to the summer season. If there is a season, it will look different, likely with restrictions on fan attendance and player-to-player interactions. But Olson isn’t picky at this point. He’ll take whatever he can get.

“Any season would be a good season right now,” he said. “I want a whole season, but I obviously know we’re not going to have that.”

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