The Baseball team hosted their first-ever Homecoming weekend this past Saturday and Sunday, where they welcomed alumni from the 1986 team back to campus to reconnect, reminisce and look to the future of Knox Baseball.
Few athletic teams hold events specifically for their alums. Having fallen out of touch with their alumni base, Knox Baseball created the event to restore the support of previous players.
Being the first of what Baseball hopes to be an annual event, the focus was on bringing the team of 1986 back to campus. This team was singled out because of their staggering track record and accomplishments, becoming the first Knox Baseball team to win the Midwest Conference Championships.
The idea was brought to attention by a Basketball alum who had also played baseball during his time at Knox. Hoping to create stronger ties between the current team and previous ones, the program hopes to hold a similar event each year, most likely during the first home game weekend of the season, though this has not been solidified yet.
Unfortunately, complications arose as Saturday’s games were postponed until Sunday due to high winds and cool temperatures.
A gathering to honor and celebrate the alumni was held in the Gizmo Saturday afternoon, allowing for members of the current team to mingle with members of the ‘86 team.
“It was almost like a ceremony,” sophomore pitcher Zach Chainuck said. “We had their accomplishments, their trophy sitting up on a table, the newspapers from the time that it happened, stats sheets, and they were just talking and getting together. They lined up and introduced themselves. It was cool to see, because they’re our goal, specifically, this year.”
The current members of the Baseball team were struck not by what the alums had to say, but how they connected so easily to members of the team.
“One of the big things that they talked about was how close they were as a team on and off the field” junior center fielder and pitcher Drake Sykes said. “Some of the guys were saying they haven’t seen them in 30-some years, but as soon as they see each other it’s like they never left. They’re still all best friends, they still keep in touch, and that’s the kind of bond that a team needs to be successful. I envy that.”
The alums also informed the current team and coaching staff that they were in the process of raising funds for the program and its facilities.
Despite coming off of a win against Robert Morris-Peoria Tuesday and conversing with an impactful team, the Prairie Fire lost both games of their double-header against Beloit College Sunday, the first game concluding 1-14 and the second 7-16. Postponing the games until Sunday, they weren’t able to avoid the 47 mph winds, but both Sykes and junior first baseman Ryan Weitendorf agree that the change helped more than it hindered as temperatures rose.
Starting out slow in the first game, the Prairie Fire made a notable push in the seventh inning of game two, racking up four runs, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Beloit’s sizable lead, made possible by quick pitching in strong winds.
“If you look at their roster there’s a lot of juniors and seniors, a lot of upperclassmen, so they have just been through it before,” Weitendorf said. “They knew what to do in the situation that they were put in. Honestly, they’re a good team; they’ve improved a lot. Their pitching was phenomenal and they were hitting their spots.”
Looking forward not backwards, Knox Baseball is focused on elevating its large freshman class to the experience level of the upperclassmen players. With 18 freshmen and 15 non-freshmen on the team, the underclassmen are currently a main deciding factor for the team’s success in the remainder of the season. With just under half of the pitching staff being freshmen, they have already proven key in game situations that injured last season’s record.
“This year, compared to last year, we have a lot more pitchers,” Chainuck said. “I don’t think it hinders how much playing time we get, I think it’s simply that you have one pitcher who’s good in this situation and another pitcher who is good in a different situation. I think it’s something that is definitely going to benefit us on weekends where we can’t have five people pitch four games. A bigger staff for pitching means more opportunities and more options.”
Working toward their first conference game, the team’s main focuses are making sure they are able to adapt in tricky game situations and creating a mental toughness that prevents errors from stacking up.
With their sights set on the Midwest Conference Championship, maybe the alums from 1986 gave the current team the push they needed.