Coming Back From COVID-19: Eldon baseball counting on development of younger players in return to action

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Eldon's Fisher Snelling.

The “Coming Back From COVID-19” series will focus on spring sports programs at Camdenton, Osage, Eldon, Versailles, Macks Creek and Climax Springs who saw their seasons stripped away due to the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. The series will highlight how these programs handled those tough times and their return to action.

It is never easy to start anew, especially after so much time away from the diamond. 

For Eldon, it was a new diamond because a tornado ripped through the town and the area where the old McMillen Field once stood after the season in 2019. Then, a pandemic came along and cancelled all of spring sports across the state of Missouri in 2020. A brand new ballpark was dedicated last May and finally, after two long years, the Mustangs have returned to play ball and are finally getting to enjoy the national pastime in the place they call home. 

“With last year being off due to COVID, I had a lot of guys lose out on gaining experience. However, a lot of those guys showed up to open gym in the fall and winter to help get them on track,” Eldon coach Chad Hinds said of a team that feature six upperclassmen. “As for this year, we will be a younger team as we only have three seniors and juniors, but we have a lot of sophomores and a few freshmen who I think will be a huge factor for us. All I have asked our guys to do this year is to compete and not give up.”

A total of 10 have graduated since that 2019 season- the last time the program had a chance to compete- and four of those seniors in Zach Graham, Tyler Snow, Clayton Moore and Corbin Harrison- unfortunately never saw their senior seasons in 2020.

Sophomores from that 2019 season including Fishser Snelling, Ian Birdno and Braydy Hill are the new seniors and will be expected to lead the way for a group comprised of 11 underclassmen this spring. Jason Holland, Dallas Hardy and Ben Cline also return from their freshman seasons as juniors. The head coach has been encouraged by what he has seen in the early stages. 

“The guys over the last couple of weeks have really bought in which way we are trying to instill in them. They continue to work hard in practice and they are all eager to learn,” Hinds noted. 

“Practice has been very competitive was we have numerous guys competing for spots on the field. With that being said, we will have some depth- especially on the infield. We have six to seven guys who can perform well defensively on the infield, which will help as we will need a lot of guys to pitch for us a well.” 

As is the case with any season, that will be one of the most important components- the ability to consistently throw strikes and back that up with a solid defense. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to score some runs, either. 

“If the guys can accomplish those tasks, I believe we will turn some heads. We have a lot of guys we are counting on to pitch this year, even guys who have not pitched since they were younger,” Hinds pointed out. “They continue to work on getting better during bullpen sessions and watching video to try and perfect their game. 

“Offensively, we will not have a lot of power but I believe we have guys that can handle the bat in the form of getting a bunt down, hitting behind runners and doing the little things to move runners.” 

However things play out, baseball is back in session in 2021 and whether on the road or enjoying the confines of the new McMillen Field, that fact will not be forgotten after all that has happened.

“Overall I am every excited for this season and cannot wait to see what things guys can accomplish. Win or lose, our main focus is to compete every game, but one pitch at a time,” Hinds said.

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132