LA GRANDE — The COVID-19 pandemic meant Eastern Oregon University head baseball coach Mike McInerney had less time for in-person recruiting as he would have liked.
If there is a silver lining, though: He brought more players to the squad.
McInerney’s roster for the upcoming season for the resurrected baseball program will have 43 players — eight more than he set out to bring in when he was named baseball coach earlier this year.
“Thirty-five is your typical roster. I wanted to get that no matter what,” he said. “As COVID started happening, you’re trying to protect (players) and make sure if you have five guys in a house and they had to quarantine (that you still have enough players). I decided to bump it up. I signed a guy really late that we needed. I settled on 43. Felt it was a good roster.”
The program’s first signee was La Grande Tiger Justin Frederick, and McInerney added three more La Grande High School athletes to the roster: pitcher Parker Robinson, infielder Isaac Chamberlain — a transfer from Columbia Basin College — and former LHS infielder Jon Gonzalez.
“Isaac, when he’s been in, he looks awesome. He’s done really good. Parker has the same thing,” McInerney said. “He’s super talented. He can play at the college level, no doubt.”
The early stages of fall practice, McInerney said, have brought some surprises.
“Easton Watterson, an outfielder from Treasure Valley (Community College) — we saw him as a versatile guy who could be small-ball and handle the bat and bunt, (but) he has shown some power, so he has balanced out the lineup,” the coach said. “He and Austin Gerding are a couple outfielders that will have some double or home run threat.”
The coach said there will be a lot of small-ball with the roster, but there also are “four or five with power potential.”
“We’ve been super demanding of all the players. They continue to bring it every single day,” McInerney said of the early practices. “We tried going slow at first. Some of these guys haven’t played baseball in spring or summer, and some have been locked away (in quarantine). We tried to go slow (and) we avoided most of the injuries. Once we got everybody in shape, we have been pushing them hard.”
The roster includes 14 pitchers, two of whom will be two-way players who can also step into a different position on the field.
“We feel good with that. As long as everyone stays healthy, we should be in a good spot,” he said.
McInerney also noted Frederick, Gonzalez, Jamie Powell, Adrian Roa and Nick Jennings are players who have stepped up during the fall.
Locking down player positions will be a focal point for McInerney before the team begins game action in early 2021.
“We’re still figuring that out,” he said. “I recruited three or four shortstops. Obviously you’re shuffling them around and evaluating. It’s a footwork thing. Sometimes you can be an incredible shortstop and not be able to play second. It’s different footwork. We’re a month into it. We’re literally still evaluating and moving guys around. We’ll be evaluating past Christmas.”