Chanute Baseball was slated to play its final games on Tuesday versus Iola in Humboldt. But unfortunately the season ended early and abruptly due to Iola players traveling on vacation and attending athletic camps, leaving Iola without enough players.
Chanute Baseball finished the year right at .500 with an 11-11 record after losing two games to Iola last Thursday. Finishing the season at all, however, was quite remarkable given the circumstances: the entire nation is battling the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has forced sports leagues nationwide to cancel or postpone athletics.
Head coach Jeremy Wheeler said he was happy that his guys end the year the same way they started.
“We played 22 games and everybody is just as healthy as they were in the first game as they are in the last, so I mean, that’s super exciting. I’m just happy about that,” Wheeler said. “I’m extremely proud. I’m extremely proud of the young men that went out there. And we got in close to a dozen practices in 22 games. And like I said, everybody was just as healthy as when they started the season. They ended the season with getting a lot of baseball in, and building arm strength and growing as baseball players. And that was the number one point, when me and (assistant coach) Hunter (Friederich) decided to continue on as an independent team.
“It was just like, we didn’t want any kid to put in the work they put in, coming to this point, some kids may have been in it since they were 5 or 6 years old, working on baseball and their parents have been working with them. And we just didn’t want to see a setback on any arm strength, and seeing the baseball, hitting the baseball, the fundamentals of baseball. It was bad that they had to take a year off of organized sports, organized baseball in high school. You can tell the arm strength wasn’t quite there where normally it would have been there in the summer when Legion took over. I think by the end of the summer, they built on arm strength, seeing the ball, hitting the ball, having a good approach to the plate. I could see it coming around.”
One obstacle in the road to securing an over .500 record were games versus Montgomery County, a travel-like team out of Coffeyville composed of players from Independence, Caney, Oklahoma and Coffeyville. Chanute lost six games to Montgomery County on June 16 and 18 and July 7.
Those losses had to do with Montgomery County’s roster with kids from several different locations, while Chanute had 15 players from Chanute.
“We had 15 true Chanute kids, and ultimately we tried to succeed in the Chanute program,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler deemed two wins over Central Heights just before the Fourth of July as the best competition of the year. The first win, Chanute dominated Central Heights 12-2, then won Game 2, 3-1.
In Game 1 – a game that lasted just four innings – Chanute came out guns blazing. Braxton Harding had two singles; Gage Guiot mustered up a triple, a single and two RBIs; Kaiden Barnett registered a single; Tyson Lucas notched a single; Caden Schwegman put up an RBI, a stolen base and two walks; Bryan Jackett tallied a triple, RBI and two walks; Aaron Robertson managed an RBI; and Camden Hugo walked twice.
Barnett in Game 2 shut the door as the starting pitcher, racking up seven strikeouts and walking just one batter in a complete, five-inning game.
Wheeler had some thoughts after moving to 9-5 on the year.
“I think we battled them pretty hard there and here. We split with them there and then came back here and got a couple key wins,” Wheeler commented. “We played them pretty well back-to-back. We didn’t play anybody in between. We had tons of great moments. The best moment was getting the kids on the field and seeing them play baseball. That’s by far my number 1 moment.”
Seeing Chanute players play baseball was indeed a significant moment in a time when sports around the state of Kansas – and the world – had been canceled, halted or postponed due to the pandemic.
Friederich was also thrilled his players were able to perform in uncertain circumstances.
“It was very fun. I always look forward to going to the ballpark with these group of kids,” Friederich said. “They are very fun to coach as well.”
Friederich played baseball for Chanute High School 2015-18 and Neosho County Community College 2018-20. He weighed in on the differences between playing and coaching.
“Being a player was fun,” Friederich added. “As a player, you have to know your situations just like you do as a coach. (You) always have to be in the game at all times. But now being a coach instead of playing is very fun and I have always wanted to give back all the things that I have been taught through the years in baseball to the kids that play on my team now.”
Friederich, who was also an assistant coach last year for Chanute’s Legion team, plans on coaching next year. Wheeler said he will coach these kids on the independent squad next year if COVID-19 wipes out Legion baseball once more.
“When COVID was going on, Legion cancelled pretty early; they just cancelled,” Wheeler said. “If something like that happens again, I’ll do everything in my power to back another Chanute Baseball team. I think overall it was a good season. I think the kids got plenty of in-game experience.”