EUGENE, Ore. -- It took a week longer than expected, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, Oregon baseball will open their 2021 season at PK Park on Thursday afternoon. The series in Seattle was supposed to be the Ducks' second, but COVID-19 protocols forced the team to postpone their opening weekend series with Omaha.
Like most sports teams that have returned to play since the onset of the pandemic, Oregon got a firsthand look of how slim the margins can be when it comes to contact tracing and positive tests. Ducks head coach Mark Wasikowski said last week that the decision to postpone the Omaha series wasn't due to not meeting the minimum player requirements, but instead was a 'common sense' decision by the staff. Contact tracing was the primary reason for so many players being held out.
"We already got our season taken away from us and know how important it is to follow the rules and do everything the right way," said Oregon catcher Jack Scanlon on Tuesday. "If we do our part then we'll be able to have a full season and that's what we want. We just can't wait to get back out there and play."
Losing players due to positive tests and/or contact tracing will also affect baseball players, specifically pitchers, differently than any other sport, said Wasikowski. When players are in a 14 day quarantine, they are confined to their living spaces and unable to be a part of their bullpen schedules or even lift weights.
"They can't just come out as soon as they're released from quarantine and they're eligible to play but [the] risk of arm injury increases significantly," he explained. "There's a ramp up process."
In the meantime, Oregon heads into their first matchup with Seattle with most personnel questions answered, but others still lingering. Centerfield remains an open competition between two-sport athlete Robby Ashford and South Eugene high school alumnus Bryce Boettcher. Kenyon Yovan hasn't taken substantial pitching reps at this point in the year and the rotation for the weekend will be released at a later date. While most of the infield is set for the season, there are questions that the coaching staff would like to see answered this coming week.
"Concern number one...do we have dominant starting pitching that can match up with the nation's best?" Wasikowski said. "That's gonna be not just a this weekend [question]. I don;t think we're gonna get that answer for weeks to come but we'll see some trends here or there. The second one was the ability to catch the challenging balls in the outfield. The other side of it is the number of quality pitchers that Coach Angier has been able to develop and has on his pitching staff. The third thing is ultimately what we're getting paid for, and that's becoming winners."