After joining the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in May 2018, Anthony Renz never imagined two years down the road that he would be coaching during a worldwide pandemic.
Renz, a former graduate assistant and former volunteer assistant coach for the Shippensburg University baseball team, is one month out of completing the 2020 season as the Redhawks hitting coach.
The Redhawks are part of the American Association of Independent Baseball. Normally, the league consists of 12 teams but due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns and state regulations, only six teams participated in the pandemic-ridden season.
According to Renz, Redhawks left fielder Brennan Metzger coined the phrase early on, “We’re not going to be fearful; we’re going to be cautious.”
Renz said the Redhawks used the phrase as motivation throughout the entire season and as a reminder to be as safe as possible.
The American Association was one of a few professional leagues that took place during the pandemic and thankfully, besides a few coronavirus cases, the season was a success.
But with success came patience and dedication. Before the season began, Renz said all players and coaches were required to sign a waiver saying they understood the risks of participating in the 2020 campaign. Renz added that the league had a weekly testing routine in place.
At the end of every week, Renz said all personnel would get a finger-prick, which was an antibody test. However, as testing advanced, the league moved toward throat and nasal swab testing.
“With the antibody tests, if you tested negative, there would be no further testing,” Renz said. “But if you tested positive, that’s when you’d have the throat and nasal tests to truly see if you were COVID positive.”
In addition to the testing, Renz and the Redhawks conquered other obstacles. Renz recalled changes in batting practice, on-field warmups and locker room presence. He also said that the team had daily temperature checks and wore masks when social distancing was not possible. And to make the already unique situation even more unusual, the Redhawks shared their home stadium with another team.
Because of travel restrictions across country borders, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, located in Canada, could not play any games at their home stadium. So, the American Association had its own version of “the bubble,” allowing both the Redhawks and Goldeyes to use Newman Outdoor Field as their home base.
Despite all the bumps in the road, Renz said the baseball aspect of the game felt the same as years past. Even with the Redhawks limiting fan capacity to 50%, Renz said the atmosphere had the same energy, and nothing beat baseball under the lights.
In Fargo, North Dakota, Renz said the Redhawks are “The professional baseball team.”
He knew no matter how many fans filled the stands; the support would be identical, if not stronger, than previous seasons.
“From a baseball setting, that was the most normal thing we had,” Renz said. “It was almost as if we didn’t have a worry when we were out there. It was a form of meditation in a sense.”
Life outside the baseball field was vastly different. Renz said everything from normal tasks to traveling from city to city, changed for the team. It was out of an abundance of caution — no one wanted to be the cause of a team outbreak.
“Sometimes people forget that professional athletes and even coaches for that matter, live an everyday life outside of the game,” Renz said. “All we see as fans is that our team is playing from seven to 10 o’clock and we just see them play. Most guys like going out and exploring the cities, and this year we didn’t have that.”
In the end, Renz said he will never forget this experience. It was an experience that required integrity, willpower and commitment. But if a similar situation arose in the future, without a question, Renz already knows his decision.
“I would do it a heartbeat,” he said. “I would have no worries or trepidations going into next season if we were in the same position. I’m ready for baseball and spring training if it started tomorrow.”