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HTL eyes July 4 opening day
Start of season delayed by COVID-19
ben conway
Wiota Indians pitcher Ben Conway tosses a strike in a playoff game at Blanchardville in the 2019 Home Talent League playoffs. The men’s amateur wood bat league had the start of the 2020 season postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but penciled in the weekend of July 4 for opening day. - photo by Adam Krebs

ARGYLE — With all the sports that have been canceled or postponed indefinitely in reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak, local baseball fans gained some positive news last week. Home Talent League, an amateur baseball wood bat organization, announced its temporarily postponed season is tentatively set to open Saturday, July 4, with teams having the option of playing Friday, July 3.

“Any chance you get to play baseball, you have to take advantage of it, so I’m all in,” Argyle Beavers outfielder Drew Nafzger said. “It gives you something to actually look forward to during these times and be able to see some faces that you haven’t seen in over six months.”

The season normally begins play in late April or early May and runs through July, with playoffs beginning in August. This year the league will play a short regular season in July before playoffs begin. Home Talent has both a Sunday League and a Thursday Night League. The Sunday league is generally more competitive, while the Thursday Night League is more relaxed, with a more wide-open lineup card and many teams allowing its younger players a chance to see the field.

Nafzger said he hasn’t been involved in roster discussions this year, but he could see how high school players would want to find a way to get involved.

“I could see them really wanting to play ball and from what I see, this might be the only option for them to play this year, which is very sad,” Nafzger said. He also said he agreed with the league’s decision to delay the start of the season. “Home Talent League isn’t essential by any means, but it is light at the end of a dark tunnel for some people.”

There will not be an all-star game this year. Traditionally the game is played in July at Warner Park, home of the Madison Mallards. However, the Mallards and the Northwest League have also shuttered their season.

As Wisconsin’s spring high school sports season was shuttered and Wisconsin American Legion Baseball followed suit, HTL offers a glimmer of hope for many that have been unable to play or spectate competitive sports.

“I think we are all just ready to get back to normal, and what’s better than playing America’s pastime, baseball?” Wiota Indians pitcher Ben Conway said.

Blanchardville infielder Colton Schraepfer was able to get in a few games this spring at UW-La Crosse before the pandemic ended spring sports across the collegiate landscape. Schraepfer and his teammates were able to travel to Florida and pick up a few games from a spring trip before being pulled home ahead of schedule.

“Once I got back from La Crosse, I’ve been lifting at Brent Ritschard’s house,” Schraepfer said. “Our (UWL) head coach told me that he would like me to put on 10 pounds of muscle for next season, so that’s really what I’ve been focusing on.”

Schraepfer said he goes to the courts in downtown Blanchardville nearly every day to hit off a batting tee and play catch with former high school teammate Carter Ruegsegger, who also plays for the Blanchardville Bullets. 

“In terms of the HTL season, it sucks that the season couldn’t start on time. Not being able to play with the local kids from my area has made it that much tougher as well,” Schraepfer said. “I know that our guys will be ready no matter what, whenever they allow us to get back on the diamond. So, the only thing we can do right now is hope that everyone stays healthy so we can play baseball again.”

The baseball field at McKellar Park in Blanchardville is under renovation, which was originally intended to prep the field to host a WIAA Division 4 sectional playoff this June.

Schraepfer said his college coaches have been in continual contact with their players and have open discussions on everything from baseball to school to the effects the pandemic is having on the student-athletes.

“I’m hoping once the field is ready, I’ll be able to take ground balls. We’ve had some team zoom calls and our hitting coach has been making sure position players have been following our hitting program. Our head coach has also been checking up on us with school and more of how we’re handling the pandemic.”