Aztec baseball adjusts to unexpected offseason, reveals how team is still improving

April 7, 2020

Sophomore+catcher+Wyatt+Hendrie+%28left%29+and+sophomore+pitcher+Brian+Leonhardt+%28right%29+congratulate+each+other+during+the+Aztecs%27+4-1+win+over+Iowa+on+Feb.+21+at+Tony+Gwynn+Stadium.

Luis Lopez

Sophomore catcher Wyatt Hendrie (left) and sophomore pitcher Brian Leonhardt (right) congratulate each other during the Aztecs’ 4-1 win over Iowa on Feb. 21 at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Nearly four weeks ago, San Diego State baseball was getting ready for a three-game home series against New Mexico State scheduled to start on March 13.

That was until the Aztecs were told on March 12 that the Aggies were pulling out of the series. In the coming days, the Aztecs season came to an end amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Head coach Mark Martinez said with the Aztecs’ 10-6 start, “the train had left the station” and they were rolling along as the team worked on its flaws.

Now, one word comes to mind for Martinez after the season was cut short: “Heartbreaking.”

“The best word I could use is heartbreaking,” he said. “We knew we had a really good team and we knew we weren’t playing at the best of our capabilities.”

For junior outfielder Matt Rudick, the cancelation was strange, and it took a while to process.

“At first it didn’t really hit me,” Rudick said. “I didn’t know what to think because I haven’t been in this situation, but a few days after it hit me kind of hard, and I was just pretty bummed because it was going good for us and we were playing good baseball at the time.”

Martinez said the events that led to the season cancelation were abrupt and unusual as opposed to other seasons that have ended after elimination in the postseason.

After the team learned of New Mexico State’s decision to forgo the series against the Aztecs, the team met on March 12 and again the following day to discuss plans moving forward —amid the uncertainty of the 2020 campaign’s future.

But, with the campus-wide restriction of meetings in effect, the Aztecs’ final meeting of the year scheduled for March 16 was canceled as well.

“It was just so fluid and so quick, so we never really got to have the last season-is-over meeting,” Martinez said.

The Aztecs were preseason favorites to win the Mountain West Conference, and they collected wins against top-ranked opponents in their non-conference schedule but are left with speculation of “what could have been?”

Sophomore pitcher Aaron Eden said the season cancellation was devastating.

“I felt like we were on a good run and I thought we could have done something really special,” Eden said.

In another reality without the pandemic, SDSU would have finished its first conference series of the season when it hosted New Mexico for a three-game set starting April 3.

Instead, like most people nowadays, the Aztecs are meeting online through Zoom and training independently as precautions.

Even though SDSU won’t be playing in its conference opener versus the Lobos, the Aztecs plan to stay sharp over the uncharted extensive offseason.

They look to use the program’s philosophy to win each day because, as it is always reiterated by Aztec coaches and players, “every day is opening day.”

“We got to win today, and that’s all we’re going to worry about,” Martinez said. “That’s our focus. Today is another opening day. You got to win today.”

Despite being split apart with some Aztecs moving back home, they are still finding ways to push each other to work harder than one another.

Junior pitcher Tre Brown said he and pitchers like juniors Christian Winston and Jacob Flores have kept in regular contact. With Winston and Flores as roommates, the two live just a couple blocks away from Brown.

Brown said they make sure to keep each other honest about the work they have been putting in this unexpectedly early offseason.

“It’s anything from me calling Winston in the morning saying ‘Hey, you gonna get up today man?’ We got to throw it together man, we gotta do this,” Brown said.

Despite watching Netflix, helping his mom cook, playing the video game “MLB The Show” and, occasionally, finding himself bored, junior outfielder Matt Rudick said he has also tried to maintain his baseball routine.

“Every day I’ve been going to hit with a couple of other guys and just keeping my swing good right now and keeping my arm healthy and my body healthy,” Rudick said.

But, in an environment where social distancing is encouraged and a statewide stay-at-home order is in place, Rudick said training so far has been a little more challenging because of limited practice facilities open.

With limited places to train at, he has found a local baseball field where he has been able to hit off a batting tee to keep his hitting motion active over the offseason.

“It’s hard finding people to play catch with because people are trying to stay away from each other and stay at home,” he said.

Eden has moved back home to Los Angeles. Since the season cancellation, the team is doing what they can to adjust to the changes.

“We are trying to adjust to the coronavirus lockdown,” Eden said. “We are all finding ways to get better every day and we’re all working still, so it just shows how much we really want to do this and the great run we could have been on and I believe we can do that again next year.”

Without getting to play the rest of its 2020 season, the Aztecs are trying to compete against one another on a daily basis to see who has better individual workouts and academics as the school year continues.

Martinez said the Aztecs are working to push each other to be better in their physical training and in the classroom.

“We’ve turned those competitions into (competing) in the classroom, (competing) to see who can be the best individual guy as far as workouts go and training,” Martinez said. “We’ve challenged them competition-wise in different arenas.”

Even though the Aztecs find themselves in uncharted territory, they still look to win each day with the goal of coming back stronger next season.

“I’ll say (to Winston), ‘let’s take a break tomorrow,’ and obviously I’m joking because we’re not going to take a break tomorrow, we’re not going to take a break the day after that,” Brown said. “We’re just going and keep on working as much as we can.”

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