Caleb Pollema — Staff Writer
For a first-time college head coach, not many inaugural seasons end halfway through the year.
But for Coach Nathan Bacon and the Defender baseball program, this quickly became the reality in the final days of their spring break trip to Tucson, Arizona.
The Defenders began the road trip with two doubleheaders, one on Saturday and one the following Monday.
In the first game Saturday, the Defenders fell to Briar Cliff by a final score of 9-4. Dordt trailed by one run headed into the 6th inning but gave up another four runs that put the game out of reach. The Chargers outhit the Defenders 12-10.
In the second game of the day, the Defenders rebounded with a 4-3 victory over the Tigers of Dakota Wesleyan.
Dordt was led by a dominate pitching performance out of the bullpen by sophomore, Willem Hoekstra. The Oakdale, California, native threw five and a third innings and allowed no runs to earn the win.
Dordt continued to play on Monday, splitting a doubleheader against Dakota State. The Defenders fell in the first game 7-2.
Dordt bounced back and capped off the day with a victory in the second game behind a dominant pitching performance from junior Isaac Vander Hart.
Vander Hart threw a 111-pitch complete game. He finished the day with nine strikeouts, two walks, and only allowed one earned run.
While the first four games of the trip seemed normal to the team, the remainder of trip was nothing short of strange.
Tuesday’s game against Wabash was cut short after 5 innings due to rain. The Defenders fell by a final of 6-2.
The weird weather continued, changing the start times of Wednesday’s action. The Defenders dropped both games of the doubleheader; the first against Mayville State by a final of 10-5 and the second to William Penn by a final of 9-2.
With the weird spring weather for the Tucson area also came weird “weather” regarding the cancellation of sporting events across the country due to COVID-19.
As the week wore on, rumors swirled across the sports world regarding the possible suspension of professional sports, the cancellation of NCAA March Madness, and even the cancellation of the NAIA women’s national tournament that involved the Defender’s women’s basketball team.
Not even the Defenders were immune to these decisions. Following the first game of their doubleheader on Thursday against Waldorf, Coach Bacon told the team about the university’s decision to close campus through Easter.
“It was unusual to play a baseball game with so much uncertainty in my mind about the future,” said senior pitcher Luke Drooger.
The news was a shock to the team. The rest of the season and semester quickly became anything but a certainty.
“It was just so surreal seeing that happen in real time,” said senior pitcher Jayson Curtis. “Knowing that the next game could be the last.”
The weird week continued as the second game of the doubleheader was suspended indefinitely due to rain and Friday’s game was cancelled due to weather.
Following the news on Thursday from Dordt, the team met for one final time on Friday morning not sure when they would see each other again. The team ended the meeting with a prayer, led by senior pitcher, Austin Johnson.
Many headed home with their families. Others would head back to campus and then proceed home.
Little did they know that this would be the final time that their team would be together as the NAIA cancelled the remainder of the spring sports season the following Monday, and Dordt announced that the remainder of the academic semester would be completed online just last week.
“I miss the guys most of all,” said sophomore pitcher Kevin Fokkema. “We all love each other so it’s been tough to not be able to compete with each other.”
The news shocked many, but it also meant that Dordt’s five seniors had played their final game in a Dordt uniform.
For senior pitcher Cole Vande Vegte the news took a while to set in but has also given him some time to reflect on the events that have transpired.
“My whole life I dreamed of playing collegiately,” Vande Vegte said. “For me, knowing I completed that goal gave me peace. It’s a game that I’ve loved my whole life and that won’t change.”
Fellow senior infielder Steve Tiersma shares the same sentiments and is ready to give back to the game that has given him so much.
“The best thing I can do now is show my passion of the game and help my younger brothers,” Tiersma said. “My love for baseball is never going to change, I’m just going to love the game in a slightly different way now.”
For these seniors, their careers finished in the most unexpected way. Months of hard work amounted to a season that barely lasted a month. While the news is hard to take, it has affected thousands of athletes across the country.
Since that final team meeting, Coach Bacon continues to remind his team of exactly that as well as the spiritual implications of what has transpired.
“This is weird,” Bacon said. “All we can do as Christians, is lean on the hope that we have in Christ and his promise for a perfect plan. We will get through it.”
Coach Bacon’s words are simple, yet profound in times like these. They provide hope to a baseball team that just lost their season amidst a pandemic and peace to the five seniors that have played their final game in the black and gold.
They will get through it.