Sports / The Prairie Fire / May 6, 2010

Ruminations on a season of hardship, loss and camaraderie

As the baseball diamond goes silent once again, some say all too early, the Knox College baseball team ends its roughest season in recent memory. After a promising 6-5 start on their winter trip to Winter Haven, Florida, the Fire started freefalling, losing eight straight games on returning and finishing with a 0-12 record in Midwest Conference play. They would only win two games in Illinois, neither a conference contest.

“It was a tough year, in terms of wins and losses,” senior pitcher and resident pontificator Daniel Feldman said. “In terms of the freshmen, they’re capable of having a great three years. A lot of promise, which is good to see.”

Though the future is bright, the team had a rough week last week. After being swept in the season series by Monmouth, the Fire hosted the Millikin University Big Blue last Wednesday and split the doubleheader. Game one was all Big Blue and the Fire lost the game, 9-0. Game two was a different story, as the Prairie Fire bats caught fire and defeated Millikin by a score of 9-8.

This past Saturday, Knox played host to Illinois College. Once again, the bats and the pitching were not on the same page and Knox was swept, getting knocked out in seven innings in an 18-6 rout and losing a tough one, despite inspired pitching, 7-6. Highlights were slim in game one, junior Jordan Ball going 3-for-4 with an RBI to lead the Fire offense, his move over to hitting seeming like a better idea every day. The talented young freshmen flashed their skills, Ryan Hoffman going 2-for-2 with an RBI and Kyle Walenga 3-for-3. Pitching was ineffective in general, three pitchers combining to allow 15 earned runs, before freshman Gabe Ayers closed it up.

Game two was another typical Colin Davis affair. The junior hurler was Knox’s last hope of snatching a conference win away from a challenger for the title in Illinois College. Shaky early, Davis let up four runs in the first before settling in.

Knox would take the lead in the second, scoring five runs in the inning on a five hit outburst. Senior Joey Graeff tripled to drive in two while senior Sam Magnuson drove in an RBI, a piece of his 2-for-3 day. Graeff was 1-for-4. After that, though, Knox mustered only one run in the fourth, freshman Matt Lee doing all the work by singling, advancing on a sacrifice, then taking both third and home on wild pitches.

Plainly, a major building block of the future for Knox. Davis, meanwhile, had only three earned runs in four innings pitched when the senior tandem of Aaron Juarez and Spencer McNeil cleaned it up. Juarez had a stunning outing, allowing only two hits and striking out four, while McNeil allowed one hit in the ninth to finish it up. Despite scrappy play, Knox did take the loss.

Augustana College was the opponent for the final day of the season, a day that most players would rather forget. Mercy ruled in seven, Knox lost 14-4 with nothing happening to write home about.

After winning a conference championship just two short years ago, Knox has truly plummeted in a fashion rarely seen, unless you’re watching the Oakland Raiders.

“Winning changes everything,” Feldman mused. “In a lot of ways it’s hard to be on a team that doesn’t win and not feel personally responsible. Whether you’re the 27th guy, the ace or the [number] three hitter, it’s hard not to feel responsible. When you’re not playing well, you want to be out there even more and help the team succeed. And when you aren’t out there playing, it’s frustrating not being able to help the team win.”

At first glance, a casual fan might say that this Prairie Fire team was really just bad, had nothing going for it. That couldn’t be further from the truth, with many a youngster, as well as veteran, doing all they can.

“Some guys played really well, we just aren’t able to put it together in the wins and losses,” Feldman said. “Just not enough guys had amazing years for us to put it together as a team. But enough individuals had good years where they have something to be proud of.”

Be that as it may, just because a team has a disappointing season doesn’t mean that is any tell of future results. Head coach Jami Isaacson started a predominantly underclassman infield save second base (senior Alex Petik) as well as platooning freshmen in the outfield.

The team loses a big chunk of its pitching staff, as well as the veteran leadership of seniors who have been there and done that bring with them. The maturity of the team will show through, giving Knox that collective grizzled old hand any young team needs.

“I hope that I’ve been able to, not set an example, but carry myself the right way,” Feldman said. “I think that if you carry yourself the right way and do things the right way enough you will have success. Even after an unsuccessful season, even after the last out of the last game… I still tried to shake hands and keep my head up. It’s important to be able to move on to the next thing, and the next and be proud of how you do things, even if you aren’t successful. Hopefully the freshmen can take something from that, and that can translate into some wins on the field.”

As he looks to the future of the baseball program and does not see himself, Feldman, at least, is optimistic and excited for the team. Among other things, they’ll have a new crafty lefty to replace him.

“We already have some younger guys who can take leadership roles,” he said. “Not just seniors next year. On some teams, you feel like … only a senior and a captain can take a leadership role. Colin Davis is a good example. He was a real leader this year on the field and off at times, as a junior. Even some guys who are going to be [juniors] go about their business the right way and bring the right attitude to the ball yard and that can help the younger guys.”

So that’s it. A disappointing season finally over, but if anything, good things come from it. Young talent in the bats of freshman Mike Schroeder, sophomore David Jewell and the legs and glove of Lee, not to mention the youth in the bullpen and starting rotation (freshmen Ryan Stoens and Ayers) gives the team a shot of hope in the arm, a precious commodity after the marathon season that just closed.

Feldman, along with all the seniors, will continue to watch as their former understudies become starters and stars in their own right and bring the glory back to Galesburg and the Purple and Gold of Knox College. At least one writer will miss covering their games, but life goes on, even as the poetry in motion that is college baseball continues. Everything is the same but the bodies in the jerseys and, with some luck and a couple big hits, the final standings.

Merritt Rohlfing

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