The sun was shining as the Washington University in St. Louis baseball team took to Kelly Field for their doubleheader against DePauw University on March 20. As the sports anthem “Another One Bites the Dust” boomed from the loudspeakers, athletic staff — the only fans allowed in the stands — cheered for their Bears.
Baseball was back.
Little more than a year ago, the Bears were competing in Florida when they learned their season would be cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bears were ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history and poised to take home the 2020 Division III championship in June.
“We were all down there together as a team and had played earlier that day. All of sudden, it was all gone, just like that,” said Tim Tague, relief pitcher and a senior majoring in systems engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering.
“It was devastating,” said Pat Bloom, head coach. “As a coach, it was one of the most difficult things to go through — to understand how much it means to each of the young men in your program, and to realize all of that hard work is not going to be realized.”
But now, WashU baseball — along with spring sports softball, tennis, track & field and women’s golf — is back in action.
“Early in July, we started planning the safest way to return to competition for our student-athletes,” said Anthony J. Azama, the John M. Schael Director of Athletics. “Our entire department contributed to creating a COVID-19 plan for each sport, with the health, safety and well-being of student athletes, coaches and staff being our Number One priority.”
The COVID Monitoring Team collaborated with the Department of Athletics to make sure best practices were put in place. New measures include restricting overnight travel, limiting competition to local areas, requiring opponents to meet NCAA COVID-19 testing guidelines and prohibiting spectators. In addition, athletes, coaches and staff would wear masks at all times and submit to regular COVID testing.
Despite the adjustments, the university’s baseball players were thrilled to learn they could compete again.
“It was awesome to hear,” said Ryan Loutos, a starting pitcher and a senior majoring in computer science at the McKelvey School of Engineering. “It also confirmed that the Department of Athletics and Student Affairs wanted to do everything they could to make spring possible for us. We’re very appreciative of all that.”
“I cannot stress enough how not having last year’s seniors this year is a big detriment and we wish we could’ve competed last year,” Tague said. “But we just know to never take a day for granted on the field, because you never know when it can all end so suddenly. We’re so excited that we can be out there playing.”
Not only are they out there playing, WashU baseball is currently ranked No. 2 nationally in Division III. The team’s undefeated start is one of the best in university history. With more games to come, hopes are rising that the team’s hard work could pay off in a championship.
A lot rides on this weekend. The Bears host Westminster College on Friday, April 9, and No. 5 Webster University on Saturday, April 10. Visit the WashU Sports Network to follow the action. Webster hosts the Bears at their home stadium, GCS Ballpark, in Sauget, Ill. for an additional doubleheader on Sunday, April 11. Watch the livestream here.
“I think it’d be very special for not only this team, but also last year’s team, who didn’t have an opportunity to compete for the national championship,” said Tague, reflecting on his time as a WashU baseball player. “If we’re able to win it this year, there’s no better way to end your playing career than going out on top.”