Something special was cooking near South Bend, Ind. this spring.
But like many things in the surrounding world, last call came earlier than hoped. Especially for Spencer Myers and David LaManna.
The two Eau Claire Express alumni had helped the Notre Dame baseball team get off to its best start since 2015, lifting the Fighting Irish to 11 wins in their first 13 games.
It landed Notre Dame the No. 24 spot in Collegiate Baseball’s Top 25 poll on March 16.
Unfortunately for the Irish, it would be the final poll of a season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a shame,” Myers said. “We felt like we were playing for something, playing with a purpose. In the past, we were kind of just playing to play because our record was never going to be quite good enough. But now that we racked up all those wins early, everything had a lot more meaning.”
Had things continued at the pace they were on, Notre Dame could have posted its first winning season since 2015, when it went 37-23. For all of Myers’ and LaManna’s careers, the team finished below .500.
But this year, the two juniors had helped the Irish put things together.
Myers, a 2018 Northwoods League All-Star for the Express, was off to a torrid start for the upstart Irish. The junior outfielder hit .431 and stole 15 bases through 13 games, tops on the team in both categories.
LaManna, the starting catcher in the Express’ run to the Summer Collegiate World Series last year, was batting .303 with four doubles and seven RBIs when the season was called off.
Both expected their team to be solid this season. But even they were a little surprised by how well things were coming together.
“We knew we were a lot stronger than we have been in the past,” Myers said. “We weren’t sure we were going to be quite as dominant as we were, but we gained that confidence pretty quickly.”
It got hopes high in the dugout.
“I think 11-2 was pretty special,” LaManna said. “I was really starting to look forward to what else we could do.”
What else could they do? According to the former Express stars, a berth to an NCAA regional definitely could have been in the cards. Maybe even a super regional.
But all they’ll ever be able to do is speculate.
“It was looking like our best season so far, so it was definitely tough to swallow,” LaManna said.
After the news broke that there would be no more games played this season, the players all went their separate ways. Now both LaManna and Myers are biding their time, waiting to see when they can next get out on the diamond.
Myers was due to play in the Cape Cod League this summer. Now he’s not sure if that will happen or not.
All he and LaManna can do is train on their own at home.
“I’ve been trying to keep busy any way I can,” LaManna said. “Hitting off a tee, throwing a lacrosse ball against the wall and blocking it. Just doing anything I can.”
Luckily for the duo, there’s always next year. And the NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes as well, meaning they might even have another after that.
Both Myers and LaManna said they would consider using the extra year. Myers said if things don’t work out with the MLB draft, he’d definitely be interested. And LaManna would like to use it to play ball while pursuing a master’s degree, if possible.
It would give them another shot at what they had started this spring: a season to put Notre Dame back in the upper echelon of college baseball. And another chance to play the sport they love.
“Playing college baseball is truly a blessing,” Myers said. “It’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and being home right now makes me realize how much I maybe take it for granted. I miss it.”