COVID-19 protocols have altered how athletic teams go about their business these days.
But it isn’t necessarily all bad.
University of Maine baseball coach Nick Derba said it has led to the development of a valuable new practice regimen he intends to employ — even after the pandemic is eradicated.
Derba explained that when coronavirus guidelines forced them to work with only a limited number of players instead of a full squad, it began paying handsome dividends when it came to skill development.
“There would be times we would have four or five infielders working with four coaches,” Derba said.
Under NCAA guidelines, student-athletes are limited to four hours per day and 20 hours per week of athletics-related activities.
Derba figures UMaine baseball now spends only three hours a week with the entire team and the rest in small groups working on individual skills. It used to be all full-team practices.
“It looks more like a major league or minor league spring training now,” he said.
The Black Bears’ season-opening series slated to open Friday at Central Connecticut State has been canceled because of unplayable field conditions. UMaine’s next scheduled games are March 5-7 at Merrimack.
The Black Bears went 1-12 last year, but didn’t get to play any America East games before the COVID-19 pandemic led to cancellation of the rest of the season.
UMaine posted a 15-34 record (11-12 AE) in 2019, going 0-2 in the league tournament.
Derba has five players back who started their last game a year ago, a 4-1 loss to Missouri State, along with 10 freshmen and seven transfers. He said his team has done a nice job adhering to coronavirus guidelines and said they are excited to play.
The Black Bears will be led by first baseman Joe Bramanti, who hit .191 with six runs batted last season, along with catcher Ryan Turenne (.158, 2 home runs, RBI).
Pitcher-outfielder-designated hitter Alex McKenney of Hampden hit .250 last spring (2 HR, 7 RBI) and Connor Goodman (.231) is the third baseman.
Derba has a freshman double-play combination in second baseman Quinn McDaniel of Marshwood High in Eliot and shortstop Jake Marquez from Miami.
“I feel really good about our infield, offensively and defensively,” Derba said.
Division II transfers Scout Knotts, a career .293 hitter at Division II Shippensburg State, and Sean Lawlor from Flagler College will figure prominently in the outfield. Northern Essex Community College transfer Jeff Mejia, freshman Jake Rainess and McKenney also are in the mix.
The pitching rotation will consist of veterans Nick Sinacola, Brewer’s Matt Pushard and Colton Carson of Oxford Hills of South Paris, along with Stetson University transfer Michael Bacica and South Portland freshman Noah Lewis.
Dillon Stimpson, Jacob Small, Bangor’s Peter Kemble and Marshwood’s Marshall Smaracko will highlight the bullpen corps.
“We have some good arms. The key for us this season will be throwing strikes and staying healthy,” Derba said.
The coach likes having four-game America East weekend series — two nine-inning games and two sevens — in order to try to get in as many games as possible.
“You know there are going to be some cancellations (between weather and COVID-19),” Derba said.