Baseball practice

Baker assistant baseball coach Al McCauley hits a ball to waiting outfielder Connor Chastain during a recent practice at the Baker Sports Complex.

After being closed most of the spring, the doors of the Baker High School gymnasium are unlocked.

The gates at the Baker Sports Complex are flung wide open.

And student-athletes have returned to start preparing for what they hope is a fall sports season.

“I was pretty excited to get back in the gym with my friends and get back in the rhythm of something somewhat normal compared to how it has been,” said Rylee Elms, an incoming sophomore who plays multiple sports, including volleyball and basketball.

It’s been almost 4 months since winter sports were winding down and Bulldog spring teams were preparing.

The coronavirus pandemic derailed those plans.

The Oregon School Activities Association canceled the spring sports season.

And the Baker girls basketball team was unable to defend its Class 4A state championship when the state tournament was also canceled.

“I was kind of disappointed for us,” said Connor Chastain, a baseball player who will be a junior this fall. “Baseball is pretty much life for me, it’s my main sport.”

Although spring sports didn’t happen and school facilities were closed until about 2 weeks ago, some athletes worked to stay in shape in the absence of organized practices.

“I just focused on lots of stretching and getting my body back to normal,” Elms said. “Then I started doing lots of things outside and lifting weights. I went to any open gyms I could and tried to maintain not only my physical but also my mental strength.”

To ensure the safety of students, coaches must enforce social distancing, sanitize equipment and check athletes’ temperatures before they enter school grounds.

Emma Baeth, an incoming junior who plays volleyball, said she’s been impressed with the coaches’ ability to deal with an unprecedented situation.

“It’s been good, they ask you all these questions, and temperature checks,” Baeth said. “With volleyball we try to stay six feet (apart).”

Although practices have resumed in multiple sports, there are limitations.

Athletes are divided into groups of no more than 10, with a coach overseeing drills that don’t require extensive close contact between individuals.

“You do get a lot of one-on-one time with the coach, but it’s hard to do drills,” Baeth said. “Last year in practice you’d play six-on-six practice with the JV team, and you simply can’t do that now.”

As student-athletes continue to look forward into the summer, they are filled with optimism that things will continue to improve.

Chastain and teammate Kai Ogan, a sophomore, hope to play for a local baseball team later this summer.

“I am so excited that we will get to play so many games after the season ended,” Ogan said.

Students also are realistic about the seriousness of the pandemic, and the potential effects on this fall’s schedule.

“I feel like having all that back this year even to a certain degree would be awesome for everyone,” Chastain said.

At the end of it all, student-athletes are content with making these transitions as long as that means they can get back to competing in actual games sooner than later.

“It was weird for all of us at first, but we got used to it,” Baeth said. “As a community we can really adapt to it, and as a school we can really adapt to it.”

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