Assumption Baseball Players Making the Most of Bravehearts’ Season
Earlier this summer, Brendan Desautels ’21 was spending his time working at the Home Depot and taking summer courses. He was staying in shape, but was not optimistic about a summer baseball season. Meanwhile, Cole Chudoba ’21 had driven down to North Carolina to play for the Wilmington Sharks in the Coastal Plain League only to make the long drive back home after just a single team practice before the season was canceled. As the pandemic raged across the country, a normal summer with baseball seemed like little more than wishful thinking.
Fast forward to July 15: the Worcester Bravehearts won their fourth straight game at their new home ballpark of Doyle Field in Leominster (their usual home field at Holy Cross is unavailable as the college remains closed due to the pandemic). Chudoba pitched five innings of one-run ball for the Bravehearts en route to a win, with Desautels coming in to close the door with a 1.2 inning save.
“I’m very thankful to be able to play the game in a time like this and give the city of Worcester something to take their mind off what is going on in the world and enjoy the game of baseball,” said Chudoba, who set the team and league record for strikeouts on July 24, fanning 15 batters in a single game.
This is clearly a baseball season unlike any other, evidenced by the masked faces in the socially distanced dugouts and bullpens. Yet, with baseball but a dream a few short weeks ago, it is a season that Desautels and Chudoba approach with a new perspective and gratitude for what it means to play the game. Both stand-out pitchers on the Assumption baseball team were unable to compete during the spring season, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic (they played 14 games during spring break in North Carolina and Florida before the season was officially canceled by the Northeast-10 Conference).
“Given the circumstances, baseball in any capacity is a gift,” said Desautels. “It’s up to us to just make the most of it and perform at the highest level we can.”
When the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) announced in late June that there would be a season, the Bravehearts could not hold full team practices, breaking up into smaller groups in order to comply with the state’s reopening guidelines. The Bravehearts began their season on the road, playing the FCBL’s Connecticut and New Hampshire teams prior to Phase 3 of reopening in Massachusetts, which would allow the Bravehearts and the league’s three other Massachusetts-based teams to play at home. Despite a new home field and various protocols put in place to ensure that players and fans are as safe as possible, Desautels and Chudoba are happy to be playing baseball again.
“You will do whatever you have to in order to be back out on that field,” said Chudoba, who played for the Bravehearts last summer and is happy to be back with the organization, which released a comprehensive COVID-19 Readiness Plan, detailing sets of rules and safety regulations for players, team personnel, staff, and fans prior to the season start.
What does baseball during a pandemic look like? Frequent sanitization of shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces, thorough cleaning of clubhouses and dugouts before and after every game. Required mask-use everywhere except on the playing field. Daily temperature checks for coaches and players before entering the team facility, and when traveling, the number of players on the 44-person capacity buses must be limited to account for social distancing. Players and coaches try to maintain six feet of distance in the dugout and there’s no contact between teammates—even high fives after a home run—are prohibited.
But it is the interactions with fans, also now prohibited, that both Greyhounds miss the most. “There are always kids looking for a high five or an autograph, and we have to say no,” said Desautels, adding that it’s difficult to turn down young fans waiting to greet the team. “I remember being that kid trying to get close to the players, and to have to say no to that is hard.”
While the Bravehearts have allowed limited fans—Doyle Field, which seats 424 fans, is operating at 25 percent capacity—and a few games with no spectators, it’s an adjustment for the players. “Playing in empty ballparks was definitely an adjustment,” said Chudoba. “I personally love to feed off the crowd and energy in the stadium, so it was weird at first.”
Though the number of fans, who receive free admission to all games, are limited, the pandemic has allowed the Bravehearts to expand their fan base virtually. With so many fans across the league unable to attend games, the FCBL has launched a new streaming service that allows fans to watch from anywhere—an especially welcome development for Chudoba, a native of Oxford, CT, whose family and friends are now able to watch him pitch from afar.
While the tangible changes to the game have certainly made for a unique season, it is the mental changes that come with playing baseball in a pandemic that seem to have imparted the greatest impact on the Assumption players. Both incoming seniors, Chudoba and Desautels harbor no illusions about their futures on the baseball diamond. “Given the year we just had, I don’t know when the game can just be taken away,” said Desautels. “If things don’t get better, this summer could be the last time lacing up the cleats. I hope to play as long as I can because I love the sport, but as we’ve seen, nothing is guaranteed.”
This potential and abrupt end to a baseball career has given Chudoba extra motivation this summer. “You never know when your last game could be,” he said, citing the unpredictability of the pandemic. “I have the mindset to go out there and play with everything I have because it could be cut short at any time. I trained extra hard and was more motivated than ever to get back on the field.” He hopes to use the trials of the past few months as a learning experience. “Sometimes you learn a lot from tough experiences, and this was one of them. I have a newfound appreciation for the game of baseball and the ability to step out on the diamond every day.”
Long considered America’s pastime, Desautels is acutely aware of the broader and unique role that baseball occupies in this country. “American history is written through baseball, and we are seeing that now as much as ever,” he said. From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and now through a global pandemic, baseball has been a constant in American lives, a symbol of hope in hard times. “In a few years, I think we are going to look back and see that baseball was the first sport to come back during the pandemic,” he added, hoping the return of the Bravehearts gave the city of Worcester something to rally around and cheer for. “If we can help even one person get back on their feet, it’s all worth it.”
Chudoba also appreciates the unique role that he has as a ballplayer in this moment. “This is an extremely tough time for many people,” he said. “The ability to play this game and give people some hope and sense of normal is a great opportunity. I have the ability to change someone’s day and take their mind off of what is going on … I want to bring joy and happiness to everyone around and especially the city of Worcester.”
As Chudoba and Desautels take the mound for the Worcester Bravehearts this season, they remain focused on bringing a third consecutive championship to Worcester. Yet, this season they are playing the game that they love with a new sense of urgency, a new perspective, and carrying a community on their backs. No matter how the season unfolds for the Bravehearts, one thing is certain—these two senior Hounds will truly leave it all out on the field.
In addition to Chudoba and Desautels playing for the Bravehearts, Assumption also has representation on two other FCBL teams: Patrick Harrington ’22 and Shea Ryan ’23 are playing for the Nashua Silver Knights while MacGuire O’Sullivan ’23 is a member of the New Britain Bees. For more information or to follow the five Greyhounds, visit the Future's League website.