Playing for the first time in 386 days, the Bakersfield College baseball team looked predictably shaky at times on Monday.
When their season was canceled last March, the Renegades had virtually no contact with each other until the fall, when players and coaches could meet only in small groups for brief workouts.
Things were a little better in January, but even then, only half the roster could be on the field at the same time, and sessions could only go on for 90 minutes. Even when full practices began three weeks ago, things were hardly routine for coach Tim Painton and his staff.
"We start every practice with an update on new procedures and policies," Painton said. "It has been a challenge."
So when BC hosted a scrimmage against Reeley on Monday (an initial scrimmage between the teams scheduled for March 27 was canceled), Painton, unsurprisingly, came away believing his squad has a ways to go.
"We looked like a team that hasn't had a lot of team practice, to be perfectly honest," Painton said of the scrimmage, where neither team kept score. "We haven't had a tremendous amount of practice with everybody on the same days or the same times. We're just getting to that stage."
As the Renegades prepare to open regular season play with a doubleheader at Moorpark on Saturday, Painton is still expecting to see a fair amount of sloppiness from his still rusty ball club. He is, however, optimistic that some of the positives he's seen since their complete return to the practice field will carry over into game action.
After hitting a team-best .329 in 20 games last season, Independence alum Hunter Adams is back, and is expected to form a sound infield pairing with returning shortstop Jose Ruiz, a Ridgeview product who Painton says "has made a huge jump" after batting .231 in 52 at bats in 2020.
The outfield will be without a key contributor early. Will Reynolds, a Frontier grad who had a team-best 11 RBIs last season, is nursing a wrist injury that is expected to keep him out at least a week.
But even without Reynolds, Painton says the outfield, which is returning six contributors from last season, is arguably the steadiest part of his team. He expects big things from Jacob Baker (BHS), who will hit leadoff, and Matt Patton (Liberty), a fourth-year sophomore looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2020, where he hit just .131 with five RBIs in 18 games.
For now, pitching seems to be BC's biggest question mark.
Delano's Gabe Ulloa and Liberty's Brock Barron are locked into the top two starting spots, while Ridgeview's Benji Caggianelli, who like Ulloa has committed to pitch at Cal State Bakersfield after this season, will hold down the closer spot.
The rest of the rotation remains in flux, though Painton has plenty of options to choose from with 13 additional arms on the roster. He hopes to find reliable starting and bullpen options in the coming weeks, as a double-header heavy schedule will require a fair amount of pitching depth.
Even if it takes a few weeks to get things clicking, Painton says simply having an opportunity to play, something not available to many programs throughout the state, should be enough reason to be excited for the start of the season.
"There's 750 (junior college) athletes in southern California that are sitting on the sidelines and we have the opportunity to play," he said. "Obviously it's different, but heck, we've gotten to this point and we have an opportunity to play. That's good news."
First pitch for Saturday's first game at Moorpark is at noon.