RubberDucks ready to play ball after 2020 season canceled by pandemic

Brad Bournival
For the Beacon Journal
RubberDucks manager Rouglas Odor, on the mound, talks to his team during a workout Sunday at Canal Park. The RubberDucks are scheduled to open their season at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at Canal Park. [Photo courtesy of the Akron RubberDucks]

It’s going to be tough to figure out who missed who more when the RubberDucks open the 2021 season Tuesday with a six-game homestand against Binghamton.

When the first pitch is thrown at 7:05 p.m., it will be the first time in 610 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes since the Ducks last played a game at Canal Park after the pandemic knocked out 2020.

“Having the fans and playing with your teammates is awesome,” shortstop Tyler Freeman said. “It gets me going. I’m super excited. Let’s play some baseball again.”

Freeman is the No. 4 prospect in the Indians organization according to Baseball America, so his anxiousness to play is through the roof.

The 21-year old got his feet wet earlier at the alternate site in Columbus as a spring training invite by the Indians.

More:2021 RubberDucks schedule

No. 5 prospect Bo Naylor got the chance to play an intrasquad scrimmage with his brother and Cleveland first baseman Josh Naylor in Goodyear, Arizona.

Outfielder Will Benson played alongside Kody and Kacy Clemens for Team Texas in the four-team Independent League last season.

It was a chance to play organized ball again, but nothing beats the real thing, so coaches and players alike may find themselves caught up in the moment of Opening Day.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to describe the feeling,” Bo Naylor said. “You can bet that it’s going to be surreal. It’s been highly anticipated and is something we’re all going to be looking forward to. I’m going to leave it all on the field and take advantage of every opportunity that I’m given in that game.”

That unreal atmosphere will probably last a pitch or two before fans and players alike get over the pomp and circumstance of actually watching and playing baseball again in a game setting.

RubberDucks manager Rouglas Odor, left, fist-bumps Connor Smith during a game in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the RubberDucks will open the 2021 season Tuesday night against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

There wasn’t much rust in the first workout on Sunday when manager Rouglas Odor got a chance to see what he had under sunny skies at Canal Park and that has the veteran skipper pumped.

“We couldn’t work the first day [in Akron] because we were waiting on COVID results,” he said. “The second day we were here we didn’t get to work out because the results weren’t back in time, but our first full workout I could see the excitement and that’s what I’m expecting throughout the whole season.”

More:2021 RubberDucks schedule

In-game rust might be there at the start of things, but Odor thinks the team might be a bit ahead of schedule despite only playing a handful of games together.

With the season off, the RubberDucks had a chance to work on their mental aspect as well, while honing their skills physically and fundamentally.

“That’s what I’ve been working on the whole offseason,” Benson said. “It’s about being in the present moment and taking it one day at a time. Everyone has been waiting for [Tuesday]. It’s going to be a surreal experience to play in such a beautiful ballpark. It’s playing with a lot of my teammates and friends. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

When left-hander Eli Lingos throws the first pitch for the RubberDucks the velocity might be up a tick, but that’s to be expected given the time off. Right-hander Tylor Megill is expected to start for the Rumble Ponies.

More:RubberDucks Homestand Highlights

The joy of the game will linger throughout the season as the stars of tomorrow hone their craft while playing a game that was taken away from them last season.

“We’re very excited to be back in probably one of the best baseball fields in minor league baseball,” Odor said. “Is it going to be different? Yes, it’s going to be different, but we’re used to it because we’ve been doing it for such a long time.”

Binghamton at Akron

Time: 7:05 p.m. Tuesday

Radio: WHLO (640-AM)