College baseball players will be back in action today at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
The College Summer League at Grand Park will stage a doubleheader today, another on July 17 and a single game on July 24 for three straight Fridays of league action at the stadium. The league began for the first time this summer, attempting to fill the void left when some summer baseball leagues and teams such as the Kokomo Jackrabbits shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Kokomo Wildkat and MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with the startup of the league, which primarily plays at Westfield’s Grand Park, site of Thatcher’s Pro X Athlete Development business.
“It’s free admission. There’s a lot of baseball fans in our community that are missing going to Jackrabbit games, that are missing going to the stadium during the summer time, so it’s an opportunity for the people of Kokomo and Howard County to come out to the ballpark, spend an evening at the ballpark, and watch some really good baseball,” Thatcher said.
“Having some prime-time games at a stadium the caliber of Kokomo is exciting. Our players are excited to get up and play.”
The College Summer League at Grand Park features a dozen teams with 280 college players. Today’s action begins with the Marksmen vs. the Screwballs at 4:30 p.m., followed by the Nighthawks vs the Woodchucks at 8:30 p.m.
On July 17, the 4:30 p.m. game is the Snakes vs. Juice, followed by Tropics vs. Local Legends at 8:30. On July 24, the Turf Monsters face the Park Rangers at 7 p.m.
Information on the teams, games, and squad rosters can be found at grandparkssummerleague.com.
Bullpen Tournaments oversees the league as well as a high school league running currently at KMS and CFD Investments Stadium in Highland Park.
“We’re excited that Bullpen has reached out to the city and the Jackrabbits to bring some exciting baseball to the Kokomo area,” Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore said.
“What folks have been missing — to see some activity in both facilities, not just Municipal Stadium — for Bullpen to reach out to the city for use of CFD down in Highland Park is really exciting.”
The Jackrabbits have exclusive rights to use the stadium but with the organization not fielding a team this summer due to the pandemic, the stadium was open and the city, Jackrabbits and Bullpen worked to get some action into KMS. Thatcher called it a “pretty easy deal” between the parties to get summer league games in Kokomo.
Jackrabbits’ director of corporate partnerships Nathan Martin said concessions will not be available at the stadium today so fans can bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks. The city has suggestions for fans in order to minimize the chances of spreading COVID-19.
“We’re following the state’s direction and protocols that masks are encouraged and requested but they’re not required, and with the amount of space that both facilities [KMS and CFD stadiums] have, it’s easy for the limited number of fans to social distance and spread out,” Moore said. “Even though there may not be areas or rows of seats blocked off, we obviously are encouraging folks to social distance
“There are not concessions being offered at either place so that helps reduce the additional amount of exposure or interaction. [I] encourage people to be like they have [been] and be respectful of others.”
Thatcher is enthused about what he’s seen from the first-year league. The plan is for the league to continue in future years.
“We’ve had a really good turnout with it,” he said. “Obviously all these guys are dying to play some baseball. We’ve got NAIA, Division III players all the way up to some of the premier, most-talented college baseball players in the country. Louisville sent a bunch of guys, Indiana sent a bunch of guys, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana State. Most of the players are from Indiana or go to school in Indiana, but we also have players that are driving up from Lexington — University of Kentucky — from Ohio, from Michigan.”
Ohio State’s Bayden Root, and Louisville’s Jack Perkins, a pair of former Kokomo Wildkats, are both in the league.
Games are primarily at Grand Park, but in addition to the Kokomo schedule on Fridays, Thursday’s all-star game and the July 30 championship will both be at Victory Field in Indianapolis. In general, the league operates games Mondays and Tuesdays, then the rest of the week many players train at the Pro X facility at the Grand Park campus.
“Because we do have such good talent in our league and we are centrally located there’s been a ton of professional scouts at all our games,” Thatcher said. “The scouts love the convenience of coming out and there’s six games going on at once, all with top-level college guys.
“It’s been really competitive. These guys were missing competing against other guys with their seasons being canceled so it’s really been something neat to be a part of and providing this opportunity. Now moving the games from Grand Park to Kokomo for a couple games in prime time under the lights, it’s going to be something exciting for our league.”