Following the announcement of suspended athletics until 2021, John Brown University’s new club baseball team awaits the start of their inaugural season.
JBU Talons Baseball is a member of the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA), “the fastest growing intercollegiate baseball organization in the country,” according to the association’s website.
The team expected to play their opening weekend in March against Oklahoma State and the University of Oklahoma, but the games were canceled as schools across the country closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Landon Summers, head coach, is eager to start the season in the spring. “We have a solid number of guys who are playing and looking pretty good. We’re just practicing right now, trying to get better every day and seeing when we can get games going whenever we can,” Summers said. He brings 15 years of experience as a former high school outfielder.
The program was launched through the initiative of Seth Eben, junior catcher, who wanted to start a club team on campus. Eben worked with Jay Nickel, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications for JBU and club sponsor, to begin the process of forming the club in 2018. “We got a decent amount of guys that were interested and started throwing on the quad,” Eben said.
While recruiting, Eben met Jack Stockton, senior pitcher and third baseman. The two players created the club constitution, and Talons Baseball became a formal club in 2019.
“It’s been a process for sure, and we’re still not where we want to be 100 percent yet,” Stockton said. “We want to be right with Frisbee and rugby in terms of how students know us. I don’t think we have that level of popularity yet since we’re so new.”
Max Steele, junior center fielder and second baseman, jumped at the opportunity to join the club team after attending a high school that did not have a baseball program. Steele is looking forward to the start of the season. “I could very much see sports coming back and being able to play,” Steele said. “If anything’s going to open back up quickly it’s baseball because it’s already kind of a distanced sport to begin with.”
Both Steele and Stockton look forward to playing against the University of Arkansas Razorback Club Baseball team. “They obviously have a huge base to pull from, but just being able to play teams that are better than us is going to grow us as a program,” Stockton said. “We’re going to be able to see where we want to be in the next five years or so.”
Practices are held at the La-Z-Boy Ball Fields in Siloam Springs. To keep with social distancing guidelines, the team divides into groups of five players: pitching, outfield, infield and utility. Players do not cross over groups, and each group uses its own bucket of baseballs.
Highlighting one of the challenges of this new practice format, Summers said, “We can’t work on situational hitting and situational defense because we can’t have the whole team on the field.”
As the team prepares for competition, they also respect the regulations keeping the campus safe during the coronavirus pandemic. “We respect the decisions by JBU, and we will continue to follow the law of the land, per se, because we want to protect the university. But if they allow us to play, we would play as soon as we could,” Summers said.
Eben is looking forward to celebrating future wins with his team and building camaraderie with other players. “I definitely think we can compete,” Eben said. “With growth, it’ll become a lot easier to actually have a committed and more focused team.”
While recruitment has been difficult for the Talons due to COVID-19, Summers is pushing for freshmen in every position to join the club. “We desire some young guys to be a part of the team,” Summers said. “We’re a lot of sophomores, juniors and seniors. We’re looking for some younger guys to help carry us on down the road.”
For more information on joining the team, visit @talonsbaseball on Instagram.
Photos: Catherine Nolte, The Threefold Advocate