College athletes everywhere have experienced their fair share adversity through the pandemic in a plethora of different ways. Oswego State baseball in particular have faced their own roller coaster of emotions throughout the past year, and not all in the same aspect. Newcomers on the team, veterans who are nearing the end of their career, and everyone in between have faced obstacles both mentally and physically throughout the past year.
Like most every school in the country, the Oswego State baseball team had their season cut abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, players and coaches thought this would be the worst of it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Baseball soon went to the back burner as the world seemed to be crumbling around us. While in lockdown, players had gone the longest they ever had without baseball. Not only would this take a hit on their physical skill, but their mental health as well. According to a survey done by the SUNY Oswego athletics department, more than half of their athletes saw a decline in their mental health over the pandemic. Jared Kwicinski, a junior on the baseball team at the beginning of the pandemic said, “It was just hard to stay locked in… with both school and fitness. I found myself getting stressed out more than ever before.”
The fall would bring more adversity to test the mental strength of Oswego State baseball. The day before their fall season was scheduled to begin, SUNY Oswego cancelled all fall athletics practices and events. To add insult to injury, athletes could no longer use Laker Hall’s athletic facilities and if athletes were seen in a group larger than two, their eligibility would get stripped from them. It was now officially up to athletes to decide how they’d get work in on their own. This was nothing new to the same guys who’d spent the whole year locked up, but it would test the mental strength of them once again. “The new rules back in the fall almost instilled a new chip on my shoulder. It made me want to come back in the spring better than I ever had”, said junior pitcher Thomas Pecchia.
It wasn’t just the veteran Lakers that felt the struggle of not getting into their normal offseason routine, but it hit the freshman even harder. The new class of 12 were unable to train with their new teammates, gel on the field, or attend social functions with the team. “It just felt like we couldn’t do anything. And when we could, it got taken away from us”, said freshman infielder Jacob Levine. “This wasn’t the college experience we’d all hoped for, but we had to make the most of it.”
When the spring semester started, unclear was an understatement to describe what their season would look like, if anything at all. The decision got prolonged so long that some athletes didn’t register for classes because the chances of playing seemed that slim. About every other team in the country had announced they’d play their 2021 season, but the SUNYAC was still patiently waiting. At the end of February, the SUNY chancellor finally announced the return of athletics.
In an uproar of excitement, Oswego Baseball would get to work the very next day, with their first practice in just about a year. They were happy to play but this came with a long list of new implications and restrictions they weren’t used to. Players had to wear masks at practice, be socially distant in the locker room, and comply with the complex COVID testing schedule. They would also be prohibited to travel out of state and had to play double headers on every scheduled date. This would probably be their biggest adjustment of the season since the team is used to playing a national schedule and were not given the time or recourses to be in shape to play multiple double headers a week. Although you’d think that a year off would leave this squad with some rust in their game… wrong.
Pecchia, Levine and the rest of the Lakers would do just as they said. They made the most of their situation and played with a renewed chip on their shoulder. Levine, a freshman who had no experience in the fall would hit a home run on his very first collegiate swing. He’s now leading all freshman with ten hits and 14 RBIs. On the mound Pecchia’s offseason work had paid dividends. His max squat weight jumped from 185lbs to 275lbs this past winter. This would translate to the field as Pecchia went from just 1 appearance in two years to now tossing ten innings in just a 26-game season. “It just feels good to see the hard work pay off. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s nice to contribute on a winning team”, says Pecchia.
The Oswego State baseball team as a whole would come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Through their first nine games, they scored over 100 runs, and got off to an 8-1 start. The streak would only grow after winning 17 of their first 18 games. By far the best start the team had gotten out to in program history. Currently, the Lakers lead the country in on base percentage, and are in the top five in runs per game, stolen bases per game, and are hitting an astounding .357 as a team. As of this week, the Lakers broke into the national rankings at number 22 in the country, and the top ranked team in the New York region. They have clinched the top spot in the SUNYAC, hoping to make another run for their fourth conference title in a row.
“It’s rewarding to be a part of something special. This year put me through it, but somehow this season is making it all worth it”, said Kwicinski who’s career is nearing its end. The Oswego State baseball team is living proof that there really is light at the end of the tunnel. They weathered the storm and are seeing the results in real time. Through all the trials and tribulations, they are in position to make a run at the College World Series for the 3rd time in 4 years.