At this time every year, sophomore athletes at Miami Dade College pack their bags—after two seasons of practices, games, and road trips—to continue their careers at different institutions.
But this year, things are different.
On March 13, the National Junior College Athletic Association canceled all spring sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, cutting the baseball and softball campaigns in half.
As a result, the NJCAA decided not to charge a year of eligibility to athletes who participated in the 2020 spring season, allowing them to maintain their sophomore status this year.
Nine MDC baseball players have opted to return for what will, in effect, be a second sophomore season. No softball players opted in.
“I think it’s an opportunity that no other sophomore has ever gotten at a junior college,” said Sharks’ outfielder Ian Jenkins, who took advantage of the option. “It’s an opportunity for us to come back as a team to play together.”
The nine players who will return for a third season are: infielders Erick Orbeta, Sujel Arias-Auzon, Raphy Almanzar-Rosario; pitchers Marvin De la Hoz, Gabriel Figueroa-Hidalgo, Henry Ogando; and outfielders Jose Crisostomo-Bock, David Crawford and Ian Jenkins.
Head baseball Coach Adrian Morales believes the plethora of returning players offers his squad a unique opportunity to improve on last year’s performance—the Sharks finished the shortened season 17-6.
The returning group includes the team’s top home run hitter (Jenkins with 5), stolen base leader (Crawford with 7), the top RBI producers Jenkins and Almanzar-Rosario (15 RBI each) and their best hitter (Orbeta with a .395 batting average).
“There are guys coming back with a lot of experience,” Morales said. “They know what to expect. They’ll be able to lead the new guys and the freshmen that are coming back.”
Baseball practice will start on Sept. 5 and go through Nov. 15 in the fall and resume on Jan. 10 in the spring. They will play a maximum of 15 scrimmages before the regular season starts on Jan. 22.
Like last season, the coronavirus has continued to place obstacles in the team’s way. It has prevented some players from returning to the United States, but not from preparing for the upcoming season.
Shortstop Almanzar-Rosario is using ordinary household items in the Dominican Republic to mimic batting practice. He created a makeshift batting tee using a water bottle and a plastic fan to do workouts six days a week.
“This is an opportunity that I appreciate very much,” Almanzar-Rosario said. “I feel anxious about coming back. It’s been many months without playing, just practicing and being very careful [about the pandemic].”