A handful of local college baseball players returned to the field recently for practices and games through the San Diego League. The eight-team SDL includes 248 players, with a waiting list for 100 more, who have been nothing short of eager to get back to baseball. The college baseball season was canceled March 12, along with all other NCAA spring sports, so to these players, three months seems like three years at this point.

Baseball has returned in some states – Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas – but nearly 90% of the nation’s collegiate summer leagues were canceled this year. The SDL is uniquely positioned to play because, among other things, its games are limited to one location. Other leagues have teams located in different cities and the city-to-city travel made things more problematic.

Players and coaches work together at a recent practice for collegiate athletes held by the San Diego League. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Also, most of the SDL’s players are San Diego natives who can live at home during the summer. Other leagues house their players with host families who may have been reluctant to bring players into their homes during the pandemic.

The San Diego League was created in 2019 and was based at California State University San Marcos to provide college baseball players a summer league option that not just utilizes but emphasizes analytics to assist in player development. It planned to return there, but the campus remains closed to activities.

Talented players from all over the country come to America’s Finest City to start, or continue, building their individual analytical profile with Blast Motion and/or Rapsodo technologies. Ultimately, and most importantly, the players learn what the numbers actually mean and how to implement them in their training. After several options around the county were considered, the SDL settled on Christian High School in El Cajon, where league officials and coaches have spent last few weeks preparing for the season to start.

As for the precautions to battle the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Players will be wearing masks where needed and a blue taped “X” every 6 feet designates where to sit inside the dugouts and down the foul lines,” Connor Little, chief operating officer of the San Diego League, said. “We tried to talk to everybody we could for direction. We have a list of guidelines and restrictions on our website and we will be following those guidelines to the best of our abilities as to what the government has asked us to do, so we’re doing everything they’ve asked.”

Safety protocols were sent out to all of the league’s players and coaches and are posted at the entrance to the ballpark. Thermal temperatures are taken before anyone can step on the field. Players, coaches, umpires and staff are the only people allowed at the facility tucked in a back corner of the private school’s campus and games will be played without fans.

Thermal temperatures are part of the guidelines set by the San Diego League for college baseball players as they get underway with their summer season. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“It’s about these kids getting back out and playing baseball again,” Little said. “The practices are good to ramp them back up correctly and keep them on the right track.”

The SDL is planning a two-month, 30-game season, highlighted by an all-star game scheduled July 10 at Petco Park. At the end of the summer season, an individualized analytical report with the captured data is compiled for the players and their college coaches in order to review the progress made.

The focus of the SDL is improving athletically, overall development and comprehending and applying the analytics. It is not traditional summer ball where the focus is only about getting reps on the field. The front-office staff and coaches expect the athletes to immerse themselves in the entire program by going to the scheduled workout sessions, learning about Blast Motion and Rapsodo technologies and being ready to work for the entire summer season.

Gavin Johns, Temecula resident and Tennessee Tech University third baseman, joins a short list of local college baseball players returning to the field for practices and games through the San Diego League. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“This is great,” Gavin Johns, Tennessee Tech University third baseman, said. “We were all so used to just hitting in the cage and fielding where you could find dirt, so this feels normal again.”

Johns, who grew up in Temecula, played and graduated from Chaparral High School and who will be finishing up his college career with Tennessee Tech over the next year, is among about 10 local collegiate players that will be playing in the SDL through the summer months.

As rosters get updated, other local players include Peyton Maple (Great Oak; Monmouth University, 2022) and Drew Rico (Paloma Valley; Shoreline CC, 2023) on Team Hooks; Gavin Johns (Chaparral; Tennessee Tech, 2021) and Jonah Sebring (Great Oak; Grossmont College, 2023) on Team Jets; Stephen Rausa (Vista Murrieta, Eastern New Mexico University, 2022) and Tyler Weiner (Murrieta Valley; UC San Diego, 2023) on Team Long Boarders; Niko Diaz (Chaparral, Cal State San Marcos, 2022) and Brandon Ross (Vista Murrieta; University of Hawaii, 2022) on Team Sharks and Aiden Bruce (Chaparral, Mt. San Jacinto, 2023) on Team Wild.

Niko Diaz, former Chaparral High School Puma and current member of the California State University San Marcos baseball team, is seen here last season playing in a San Diego League game with the Jets. Valley News/Courtesy photo

With so many other leagues canceled, the SDL has seen an influx of talent. For instance, a dozen players headed for the Cape Cod League will be playing in San Diego now instead. Last year’s rosters included players from two Division I schools. More than 40 Division I schools – including San Diego State University, University of San Diego and University of California San Diego – are represented this year.

The rosters also include six players listed by D1 Baseball among the top 150 college prospects for the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft: No. 10 – Boston College pitcher Mason Pelio (Rancho Bernardo High), No. 46 – University of San Diego catcher/first baseman Caleb Ricketts, No. 106 – University of California Berkeley pitcher Grant Holman (Eastlake High), No. 116 – University of San Diego pitcher Conner Thurman, No. 126 – University of Arizona first baseman Dayton Dooney (Poway High) and No. 129 – Stanford University infielder/pitcher Brandon Dieter.

For more information on the San Diego League visit www.thesandiegoleague.com. If there are any players not listed here, email sports@reedermedia.com so we can update the list.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.