Excitement is in the air around Horseshoe Bend as the preparation for the 2021 season rolls along.
Jason Johnson is excited to be back on the diamond as his team works through the throwing period. The Generals baseball program was only able to play nine games in 2020 before the pandemic shut the season down.
In their limited gameplay, Horseshoe Bend went 1-8, but Johnson says his program understands why they had to shut down.
“Everybody understands that shutting down was the best and safest thing to do,” Johnson said. “But we were finally starting to play better the last few games we got to play.”
As the field works out their arms and builds chemistry, there’s going to be a different look to the program. Two seniors graduated last year and the Generals will lean heavily on three players in 2021. Senior Cole Johnson is back and has pitching experience while coach Johnson is expecting more out of Holt Tidwell and Chandler McMath.
“I’m also expecting a lot from juniors Holt and Chandler,” he said. “Those three are my most veteran guys, so we need a lot of production from them. We only lost two seniors, but both were starters, so any time you have to replace two starters at a small school it’s a big deal.”
Team chemistry is also going to improve throughout the throwing period for the Generals, which should come easier due to the number of athletes playing other sports.
“Most of our guys play multiple sports so team chemistry comes pretty easy to them because they spend so much time with each other throughout the year,” Johnson said.
As with many other coaches in 2021, there is a sense of hope to get a season in. The AHSAA has set many guidelines for coaches, athletes and schools to follow, but there’s hope that baseball being outside can lead to having people more spaced out.
Building momentum during the season will be tough. A win could lead to more, but a loss and subsequent pause in action for the program could leave them in a cold spell for a long period of time. However, the concern for Johnson and his squad is the health of the players and getting the program ready to play.
“With numbers continuing to rise, the biggest thing we're worried about now is keeping everybody healthy,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing is to get them ready to play. I think it’s just the fact that it was cut short last season and very well could be again. So, you better make the most of it because we don’t know how long we might get to play.”
The season will be more difficult because nothing comes easy with the pandemic affecting everything. Johnson says nothing is easy when dealing with high school kids.
“Half my guys play basketball, so those guys will be behind the others as far as having their arms in shape,” Johnson said. “Then you add in COVID - it makes things very difficult. But everybody is figuring out how to make the best of all the situations that come up.”
On one hand, the Generals get to focus on the little things during the throwing program. Some things can’t be coached during the regular season, so the Generals are using this time to focus on the other aspects of baseball. Even having their pitchers involved in the practices is big.
“Its huge,” Johnson said. “It gives us as coaches more time to work one on one with each player. And it allows the pitchers and catchers time to get familiar with each other.”