Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
For VCU baseball player Griffin Boone, summer and baseball go hand in hand. COVID-19 restrictions made playing the sport seem impossible, but then he found the Northern Virginia Collegiate League.
“If this didn’t come, it would have been the first summer in eight or nine years without baseball,” Boone said. “Baseball’s my life. It means the absolute world to play.”
Boone, a rising freshman infielder, is one of two Rams playing in the inaugural NVCL season this summer. Sophomore catcher Nicholas Ericcson also plays in the league.
Ericsson was originally going to play in the Cal Ripken League this summer. The league, which has teams in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, canceled its season due to COVID-19. That’s when coach Shawn Stiffler called Ericsson and told him about the new league that was starting up.
The Woodbridge, Virginia, native said he jumped on the opportunity and hasn’t looked back. He said the energy levels he felt on the first day of practice haven’t changed.
“It feels great just to be back on the field and play with a bunch of good baseball players this summer,” Ericsson said. “Everyone was just excited to be back on a baseball field, getting ready to play a season when we didn’t think there was going to be one.”
The chance to play this summer has allowed Ericsson to play more college innings and gave Boone his first taste of college-level play.
Ericsson only made two appearances with the Rams during the shortened season that ended in March. He said the NVCL will help him grow as a catcher. His main focus is working on his defense behind the plate and seeing the ball more while hitting.
The Rams played 17 games in the 2020 campaign and logged a 9-8 record.
Boone said the opportunity to play college innings before stepping on campus made him nervous at first.
“I’m a rising freshman and you go from playing senior year of baseball to playing with full grown men,” Boone said. “That’s what I was the most nervous about, but I came to this league and we play guys that are potential draft picks next year.”
Playing baseball during a pandemic presented a challenge for baseball as a whole, but the NVCL implemented several rules to avoid transmission of the virus during competition.
Some of the rules include barring players from touching their mouth or face while playing, expanding the dugouts down the foul lines and placing umpires in socially-distant locations.
The traditional home plate umpire stands behind the batter and calls foul balls and plays made at home plate.
Ericsson says his biggest challenge is not having the umpire call the balls and strikes behind him.
“I think it’s a little harder because as a catcher you have that relationship with the umpire, talking about the strike zone and stuff like that,” Ericsson said. “It made it a little bit harder for the communication between me and him.”
The league requires a temperature check for all players, coaches and family members before attending practice or a game.
The MLB had a COVID-19 outbreak after its first weekend of play in late July. The Miami Marlins had 17 players and staff test positive for COVID-19, postponing the team’s games for a week.
Ericsson and Boone have both noticed that under the new rules, teammates can’t celebrate like they usually would.
“We’ve had a couple guys hit homers and I can’t even give them a high-five,” Ericsson said. “It’s definitely weird and we’re getting used to it.”
Boone said the no-high-five rule took some getting used to, but he and his teammates have adapted to it.
“Now you come in the dug out and they might say something from a little bit farther away and you put hand sanitizer on and you get ready to go back out,” Boone said.
Additional updates on VCU Baseball can be found at vcuathletics.com.