With the NCAA Division 1 baseball schedule set to kick off today, many Canadian ball players south of the border will be playing competitive games for the first time in nearly a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Junior National Team alum and Niagara Falls native Owen Diodati is one of those players and will be looking to build on what started out to be a promising freshman campaign with the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2020 before the season was brought to a sudden stop.
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The Tide started off the 2020 season hot going 16-1 including some convincing victories on their impressive run. Diodati, who represented the national team at the 2019 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup and 2018 COPABE U-18 Pan Am Baseball Championships, was a big part of that where in 55 at bats he hit .309 with five home runs and 22 RBI to earn Freshman All-American honours with Collegiate Baseball News and First Team All-Canadian honours with the Canadian Baseball Network.
“After starting out so strong and being on such a roll to start the season it was really tough to have the season canceled,” said Diodati as he prepares for his sophomore season. “We felt like we had just begun to prove a lot of people wrong and show that the Crimson Tide had really turned a corner.”
With last year’s disappointment now in the rearview mirror, the 2021 season is set to start today with the Crimson Tide at home against McNeese State where they will look to pick up where they left off last year.
Diodati along with fellow Canadian and Junior National Team alum, left-handed pitcher Antoine Jean, figure to be key pieces in the Crimson Tide success this season.
“We have a lot of guys who are extremely selfless and just want to win,” added Diodati. “We are extremely motivated to make Alabama (baseball) the powerhouse it once was.”
It looked as though the Crimson Tide were on their way as establishing themselves as contenders in the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 2020 before their biggest opponent; COVID-19 cancelled their season. Because of the pandemic, training and the way that college players normally prepare for a season has been altered and as Diodati puts it, ‘this has been one of the most unique years in terms of training’.
“We have been lucky enough to have normal practices for the most part in terms of the fall and spring but sometimes we have to train in smaller groups due to social distancing.”
With restrictions such as smaller groups to help socially distance safely it has made it harder to bond as a team but their goals still remain the same.
“The goal is definitely to be in a regional this year and to do really well in SEC play,” explained Diodati who earlier this week was named a 2021 NCBWA Preseason All-American Third Team. “I believe we have the team to get to a regional and do a lot of damage from that point on.
“If we click at the right time I’m really excited for people to see how far we’ve come in the last year.”
Off the field, student-athletes have had to get used to new Covid-19 protocols including weekly tests and screening measures while the NCAA has successfully operated football and basketball seasons which is good news for Diodati and the baseball program in hopes of proving their worth on the field.
“I think collectively as a team we have done more than any other team in the country during the times of lockdown to get better and improve on the field and in the weight room,” he said. “I am extremely proud of what our team looks like and I am really looking forward to turning some heads.”
Although Diodati and his squad are looking forward to showing how far their program has come in the last year he is more than anything thankful to have the sport of baseball back and a season to look forward to.
This article was written by Connor Heldman, a student in Conestoga College's Journalism Program