GRAND RAPIDS — There is no doubt that the coronavirus is wreaking havoc in the development of young athletes, at least for the short term.
Athletes in most sports are prohibited from gathering and practicing the fundamentals of their sports under the supervision of their coaches. Thus, young athletes who have aspirations of participating in athletics at a higher level than high school are being hindered by the lack of refinement of their skills in their respective sports.
Bill Kinnunen, long-time head coach of the Grand Rapids High School and Grand Rapids American Legion baseball programs, said there is no doubt that the virus is paying no favors to the athletes in their quest to play at higher levels.
“We are hoping that the governor gives us clearance so that we can start playing,” said Kinnunen. “Right now you can have groups of 10 people so we just practice in two groups if we wanted to as long as we follow all the rules and clean all the equipment every time somebody touches it.”
Kinnunen said that once baseball is cleared to begin – if it does – Grand Rapids is looking to become part of a league for the summer. Since American Legion baseball has been cancelled, the coach said there is the Senior Babe Ruth League and a league sponsored by Minnesota Youth Baseball. He added that many of the Twin Cities teams are going to play in an independent league.
“We will have three choices of what we want to do if we get opened up here,” Kinnunen said. “Plus they haven’t cancelled VFW ball yet so coach (Greg) Tulla might get a chance to work with his kids and that will help tremendously.”
Kinnunen said players have been playing catch and hitting in small groups, but he said coaching staffs are missing out on seeing how the players are developing and helping with the all-important fundamentals.
“Everybody will be in the same boat; the older kids know what to work on and it is the young kids that aren’t getting the reps under our eyes that the staff would help them with,” Kinnunen explained. “That’s the big thing.”
Kinnunen said the lack of baseball has really hurt the college recruiting process because college coaches needed to get more looks at the young players if they had not yet decided on a college.
“I don’t think any of our six seniors has made a decision yet,” said Kinnunen. “I have a feeling it is going to help coach (Justin) Lamppa’s (ICC) program down the line because for one year they may all stay home and go the junior college route and then the bigger schools will have a chance to look at them.”
Kinnunen said the lack of coaching baseball has allowed him to get things done around his home, and he already has his shooting lanes cut for the upcoming hunting season at the shack.
“I am way ahead of schedule with all the time I have compared to going to school and then going to practice right after,” Kinnunen laughed. “And, my wife is happy.
“You miss the kids and you miss the other coaches that you see during the season. You miss the practices and watching the kids get better. There are all kinds of stuff you miss, just the camaraderie of hanging out in the dugout, on the bus, all that stuff. But it will come back eventually.
“I think everybody will come out of it just fine. The kids aren’t going to forget how to play baseball. But with a year of development, the juniors and the seniors are the ones that are going to be hurt the most with the college coaches.
“This is the worst thing you can think of happening as far as high school baseball, not getting to play your senior year so you don’t get another shot at it compared to the college players that get to come back. Everybody is very disappointed; this is as bad as it can get being told that you are not going to get to play.
“We had all kinds of guys coming back and we were going to have an outstanding year. We had very high expectations going into it and hopefully we get to play some in the summer and hopefully there is a playoff at the end.
“That is what we are missing out on, those pressure situations for the playoffs. We lost a whole year of it now not being able to play high school.”