CMU baseball to reload, revamp after canceled 2020 season
Jordan Bischel saw a large amount of success in his first season at the helm of CMU's baseball team.
His second season had a large amount of promise, but it was cut significantly short when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.
"I look back at the last 20, 21 months, and I've coached baseball (games) for four weeks of it," Bischel said. "It's weird for me, have I forgotten how to coach the team? ... When we get back on the field, that's our first time on the field together in a game setting in a long time."
Bischel said he hopes the players learned that any given season cannot be taken for granted after the 2020 season was ripped away from them last March.
"If nothing else, hopefully, there's a level of appreciation that getting back out and playing is a privilege," Bischel said. "It's fortunate we can do that. We owe a pretty big debt of gratitude to a lot of people for the time and money to get us back on the field."
Bischel's third year at the helm -- which begins Feb. 21 at Stephen F. Austin -- will be challenging, but familiar, as he coached in a similar format at Northwood. CMU is set to play 40 games in the Mid-American Conference and 16 nonconference games. With no conference tournament, the regular-season champion will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Chippewas were selected by MAC coaches to win the conference when the preseason poll was released on Feb. 17.
"It'll be different," Bischel said. "You'd like to think if most of the teams get most of their games in that 40 games would give a true champion. Whoever does go on to the NCAA Tournament will certainly have earned it."
When looking ahead to navigate the challenging season, Bischel said he is looking to ensuring the pitching staff is ready to roll.
Bischel said senior right-hander Jordan Patty is the guy to start the first game and will be looked upon as the team's top pitcher this season. Senior right-hander Cam Brown is looking to rebound after struggling last season.
Bischel added that Brown and sophomore right-hander Ian Leatherman will see extended roles coming out of the bullpen, simulating shorter starts.
CMU has one of the largest rosters it has carried in recent years -- due, in large part, to the extended eligibility granted by the NCAA. Bischel said getting guys into games for important experience will be tough, but doable.
"We had a pretty solid team last year. You clump in six, seven, eight more guys you want to contribute, how do you find that playing time?" Bischel said. "We feel like we have the depth that we have six or seven options that could start for us. We have to figure it out during the first month of the season."
In a normal season, college players would go play in a summer league to keep playing into fall ball leading into the spring season.
After COVID knocked out the college season, both Brown and senior centerfielder Zach Gilles both played in the Northwoods League.
In 31 games over the summer with the Mankato MoonDogs, Gilles posted a team-high .366 batting average with 41 hits, 18 runs and 18 RBI.
"I was pretty fortunate to have an indoor facility to workout at any time," Gilles said. "(The Northwoods League) helped me out a lot this summer to get prepared for the upcoming season."
Brown, playing for the Wisconsin River Rafters, pitched in five games and allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits and a 3.36 ERA in 8.0 innings of work. Brown said he spent time with his family that he normally would not be able to.
"It was nice to get back to the roots a little bit," Brown said. "I was able to play (for Wisconsin), just getting back out there was nice."
CMU baseball in COVID
Making the game fun has been one of the keys to CMU's success since Bischel took over in 2019.
Whether it was the dances, the costume heads or sprinting to first base after getting hit by a pitch, the 2019 Chippewas had fun playing and it translated to a MAC championship.
In 2021, the Chippewas still aim to have fun playing the game -- but it will have to be slightly different. Whether it is wacky facemasks or finding ways to make the game fun.
As for Bischel, he said he is ready to face the season and get it started.
"What I'm looking forward to most is that first pitch being thrown, just playing baseball again," Bischel said. "It's not gonna be totally normal ... But we're a year into this thing where it's kind of normal now. ... These guys have spent a lot of time preparing and hopefully the reward is the games."
"I'm looking forward to these guys having a chance to play."