Hawkeye baseball players unite, wearing a different jersey

BY AARON COOPER | JUNE 15, 2009 7:26 AM

With the Iowa baseball season ending nearly a month ago, many of the players have gone their separate ways to play for various summer leagues. Redshirt sophomore-to-be Phil Keppler, junior-to-be Zach McCool, and sophomore-to-be Patrick Schatz, however, have stuck together as teammates with the Waterloo Bucks of the Northwoods League.

Thus far, Waterloo has played 16 games, with Keppler appearing in 15 of them and McCool in 13. Keppler carried a .228 batting average into Sunday’s action, with McCool sitting at .200. Schatz, although limited by a sore shoulder, has appeared in four games, compiling a 10.80 ERA in 62⁄3 innings, with six walks and seven strikeouts.

Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said the main benefit of the summer leagues is the experience the players gain.

“One of the big benefits … is the number of games they can play,” he said. “If you look at the two position players [Keppler and McCool], they are going to get a ton of at-bats and play a lot of innings. Same with the pitcher [Schatz], he’ll get an opportunity to throw a lot, and the only way to get better is to play.”

Schatz agreed the experience would benefit him and his teammates.

“I think getting to play against the different competition is an advantage,” he said. “You are able to work on certain things. I struggled with walks last year, so I am trying to work on that this summer.”
Another benefit for the players is seeing how they stack up against their competition — the teams in the Northwoods League are made up of college players from across the nation.

“It’s nice seeing how other players are performing and where you stand against everybody else,” McCool said. “We got a bunch of Big Ten guys who are playing, and there are a lot of hard-working guys … the competition is going to make us better.”

Keppler echoed this sentiment, noting the Northwoods League’s quality of play is similar to that of the Big Ten’s.

“The quality of competition is just as good as in Big Ten play,” he said. “It’s not like other teams are running out high-school players. Everybody is a college baseball player, so everyone is really good.”

Dahm took it further, saying the Northwoods league is one of the top summer leagues in the nation.

“Without a doubt, the most prestigious league is the Cape Cod League, but really, the Northwoods League is right there behind it,” he said. “You are able to … play against players from the West Coast, from down South, and from the East Coast … it is one of the best leagues you can play in as a college baseball player.”

The summer is a great opportunity for players to hone specific parts of their game. McCool, for instance, is focusing on his defense in order to prepare for a significant role next season.

“Defense is the key thing for me right now,” he said. “I’m playing different positions actually … from second to third to left field and right field. I’m basically getting more comfortable with playing every day and performing on a daily basis.”

Player improvement is the goal for Dahm, who sends his players out with an idea of what to focus on.

“Every player is a little different, but we’ll go over different things that weren’t as strong throughout the previous season,” he said. “We have expectations for everyone who goes, and we give them things that they need to work on. We want everybody to get stronger, faster and all that … but we’ll also break it down for each kid, the things that we want them to do specifically.”

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