At a school with no baseball facilities on campus, it is no easy task for the club team to find places to practice. The struggle to find a place to practice on campus is both metaphorical and telling of how bad our players want to continue playing competitive baseball.
Which is why club baseball makes the most of what is available, taking advantage of the Greg Reinhard Baseball Academy, the Stock Pavilion, and the McClain Center.
With the season right around the corner, the players are practicing two or three times a week at these various facilities, working hard to bring a championship to Madison—if not, two.
First Class Facility
Located about 15 minutes outside of the city, the GRB complex is a large indoor batting cage with ample room for the two teams to practice.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the club team has the entire facility to work on pitching and hitting. With multiple 60 foot cages, GRB provides a great opportunity for pitchers to throw to live batters, a necessary step to prepare for the campaign.
“It’s cool to go to a nice facility because it actually feels like what a collegiate baseball team would have,” said freshman pitcher and first baseman Austin Mullins.
In addition to live at bats, GRB’s several cages allow all players to take plenty of hacks while waiting to hit live. The live pitching also gives catchers the ability to work with pitchers in game-like situations, a skill that takes a lot of time to develop and is vital to winning ballgames.
Both hitters and pitchers alike reap the benefits of this work throughout the winter.
“Having hitters see live pitching and getting a chance for our pitchers to get their arms ready despite the winter weather really prepares us well for spring break,” said senior Club President Billy Calawerts.
The Stock Pavilion is often home to horses, pigs and goats, but on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays it is also home to the baseball team. Used for animal shows, the Stock is an open oval of dirt, surrounded by stadium seating.
While the dirt is rocky and not suitable for infield work, the large area allows for pitchers to throw bullpens and a batting cage to be put up for hitters to utilize.
“There’s not many baseball facilities that have live animals in them,” Calawerts said. “Having the players set up the net and coordinating that is always interesting.”
Since the Stock’s primary function is not baseball, the players take on the task of assembling and hanging up the batting cage in the middle of the Pavilion.
This process, depending on the expertise of the players, can take some time to get right. Nonetheless, when the net is hooked up properly, it serves its function admirably.
“I initially laughed, then I went up and down the stairs looking aimlessly for a place that we could actually hit and throw,” Mullins said reflecting on his initial reaction before seeing the cage set up.
“It has just become a normal thing. I don’t even think twice about it being odd or anything. It’s a place where we practice, nothing more, nothing less.”
The Stock certainly takes some getting used to, especially the smell, but in the end it is a convenient option for offseason work. The multiple time slots available allow players to sign up on dates and times that work for them, which gives all players the opportunity to practice consistently.
“It’s funny because my freshman year one of my friends who plays DI baseball sent me a picture of their state of the art indoor practice facility and I responded with a picture of the stock,” Calawerts said. “It’s definitely not desirable but you definitely grow to like it.”
President-elect Jalen Knuteson looks at the experience in the Stock fondly.
“I think it really proves whether or not guys want to get better or not,” said Knuteson. “You can either be stubborn, and avoid setting up the cage to get better, or show how much you love the game of baseball by practicing in the Stock.”
Late Night Grind
Around two times a month, the club team is granted access to the McClain Center, the indoor football field located right next to Camp Randall. Unfortunately, these practices run from 10 p.m to midnight, which is not always an easy time slot to make for college students. Regardless, the dedicated players take time out of their busy schedules to work hard.
“The McClain provides the opportunity in the winter to stretch out throwing and do infield as a team,” Calawerts said.
The huge turf field allows space for all players to improve their game. Infielders are able to take ground balls and turn double plays, outfielders can shag fly balls, and catchers are able to work on throws down to second base.
The space also helps the infielders build chemistry with one another. The ability to work through game like situations helps the players get used to where each infielder will be. The team goes through both bunt and first and third situations, making sure they have the different plays down.
This world class facility on its own makes the players want to practice and take advantage of every minute in McClain. But there is also something special about
gracing the same field as players such as Melvin Gordon and Russell Wilson; about practicing in the midst of greatness.
The team may only be able to practice in McClain a few times a semester, but it is vital to the club’s preparation. The ability to practice in such a large area ensures that the team is ready for game situations before the season even starts.
“I like to think of it as with the Stock, GRB, and McClain, we have a complete practice facility comparable to practicing outside,” said Calawerts.
And the players find extra value in their humble practice situation.
“Practicing in all three facilities shows us—even if we don’t always acknowledge it—how much we are willing to sacrifice to continue playing this game at a high level,” said Knuteson.
-by Robert Ehrlich