Webster Gorlok baseball players made a trip across the river to O’Fallon, Missouri to play in a 30-game, six-team league.
Summer baseball is a tradition for numerous collegiate baseball players, but many Webster Gorlok ballplayers were not able to play summer baseball in 2020. With leagues suspending operations because of COVID-19, the Prospect League’s O’Fallon Hoots and CarShield Field created the CarShield Collegiate League (CSL): a 30-game, six-team league with every game being played in O’Fallon, Missouri. Several Webster Gorloks played in the CSL.
Many Webster players trained together in St. Louis before the CSL announced it was starting and during that time players avoided a COVID-19 case. Senior pitcher Ben Kowalski played for the CornBelters and said there were no positive tests amongst the Gorlok players nor any of the CSL teams.
“We had to be careful with everything,” Kowalski said. “[The CSL] made us wear a mask, we did temperature checks every day, we did daily screenings. We kept everybody as safe as possible.”
Senior outfielder Aron Hopp was one of the Gorloks who played in the CSL. He had to get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine for two weeks after contact tracing determined he was at risk of a COVID-19 case. He missed 10 games, but came back for the final 20 for his team, the Eagles. Hopp said the cost of his test was out-of-pocket and, even with the close risk of COVID-19, he resumed playing when his self-quarantine ended.
“I was down to play any amount of games that summer, COVID had nothing to do with me playing or not,” Hopp said. “I needed to get reps in, get at bats in, see live pitching. There was no better way to see the best pitching than in the CSL.”
Senior pitcher Bobby Strandt played with Kowalski on the CornBelters. They played alongside Jake Burger, a St. Louis native and infielder in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, as well as players in the Boston Red Sox organization. Strandt said the reps with pro players were extremely valuable.
“The first two or three weeks, it was a little bit of an adjustment to get used to them,” Strandt said. “By the end of the year, they were just another teammate who were clearly better than everyone else. It was kind of eye-opening to see that they’re like us, just really good at baseball.”
Hopp and Strandt said, in addition to the minor leaguers, there were many players from different NCAA Divisions also competing alongside the Gorloks. Ben Swords, Webster’s senior third baseman, played for the Falcons and was the first team all-CSL selection for third base, beating out upper division players for the honor. He said the great pitching from the league helped him improve his approach at the plate and his consistency.
Swords also said the opportunity to play alongside his fellow Gorloks was enjoyable despite COVID-19.
“I typically get to play with at least one person that is my teammate each year,” Swords said. “It was really cool to just see us all develop and go through our ups and downs of the summer ball season. It was a lot of fun, the camaraderie and competitiveness and knowing how good my teammates are. Watching them succeed in other games against other teams was fun.”
Kowalski, Hopp and Strandt agreed with Swords, as did Webster spectator senior Tyler Merkle, who is the current Stadium Operations Intern at CarShield Field and worked all of the CSL games. Seeing players who lost their spring season play this summer was the best part to watch, according to Merkle.
“The league was really competitive and it gave our guys the chance to get reps in against great talent,” Merkle said.
Senior shortstop Matt Staker said the culmination of the summer training and summer baseball alongside his fellow Gorloks has him more ready than ever for the 2021 season.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” Staker said. “We’re really excited to come back, and we just started practice the other day. Our recent success too, bringing back a lot of the same guys, we always love that spring time together.”