UA pair maintain workouts

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad (18) is greeted at home plate by catcher Casey Opitz (12) during a game against South Alabama on Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad (18) is greeted at home plate by catcher Casey Opitz (12) during a game against South Alabama on Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad is glad his parents didn't get rid of that set of weights he used to work out with before he left home to play for the Razorbacks.

"Luckily, we have a little weight set in my parents' garage that I used when I was in high school all the time," Kjerstad said Tuesday from home in Amarillo, Texas. "I dusted it off and started using that again since all the gyms are closed."

The college baseball season -- and virtually sports all over the world -- have been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With college training facilities and local gyms also shut down to try to prevent the spread of the virus, athletes such as Kjerstad have been forced to become creative to get in their workouts.

"They have been [working on] strength and conditioning," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of his players. "It's more weights type stuff in their basements and garages. Hitting [a baseball] off a tee into a net in the garage or the basement. The basic stuff.

"We've got some of them that probably have a key to get into somebody's batting cage somewhere. I think there's a lot of that going on. Maybe it's not open to the public, but if you know somebody, they'll let you in."

Casey Opitz, the Razorbacks' junior catcher, is home in Centennial, Colo. He's been working out with his older brother, Shane, who played eight seasons of professional baseball in the minor leagues as a shortstop for the Blue Jays and Brewers and is now an assistant coach at Northern Colorado.

"My brother has a gym in his basement with a squat rack, a bunch of weights," Opitz said. "We're kind of doing what we can with that. We've been really lucky we don't have to miss a beat on the workout side.

"We've got cages and a net to hit into. We're pretty lucky to have all that, because I know there are a lot of guys out there that are doing a lot of body weight stuff right now and swinging a bat in front of a mirror."

Kjerstad said he's been hitting at Randall High School, where he was one of the top players in Texas.

"My high school has some outdoor cages, so I go up there with my dad [David], and he'll throw me a bucket of balls here and there when he has some free time," Kjerstad said. "Just kind of doing things a little bit like when I was in high school. Kind of fun to be able to do that, get back to your roots a little bit."

Kjerstad and Opitz are working out to stay ready for the Major League Baseball Draft, which is scheduled for June 10-12 but could be delayed because of the coronavirus.

Kjerdstad, who batted .448 with 6 home runs, 5 doubles and 20 runs batted in through 16 games when the season ended, is rated the No. 15 draft prospect by Baseball America.

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Opitz, who Van Horn said is one of the top three college catchers in the nation, batted .302 with 1 home run and 11 RBI in 16 games. He's rated the No. 104 draft prospect by Baseball America.

"I feel like I'm doing everything I can right now and still staying motivated with the times," Kjerstad said. "It's a weird time. Nobody's ever had to go through something like this. Nobody really understands what's going on.

"It's going to make a difference for a lot of guys on whether they took care of business when you didn't have access to the best facilities, and you just kept your nose down and kept improving.

"You'll see a difference in some of the guys that kept it going and then some guys that just kind of tapered off and took an extended break and didn't keep working."

Opitz said players have to maintain strength and timing as best they can.

"It's just kind of do what you can do, or you're going to lose it," Opitz said. "So whatever you've got to do to stay with it.

"Obviously, when you get to work out and hit, that's probably the best part of your day. Because you come home, you can't really do anything else. It's kind of boring. So you take advantage of that time and enjoy it and you get to work."

Kjerstad and Opitz are continuing to do online work for their spring semester classes and also are helping their families.

"My parents have been keeping me busy," said Kjerstad, whose parents own and operate two businesses that sell purified water, tea and ice. "They've put me back to work.

"I'm helping them out with some miscellaneous stuff, whether it's helping them out with our warehouse or running some errands for them. I do all the landscaping and mowing around the house.

"They don't have me working in the store right now, but if we get short on workers I may be up there in the drive-thru or something working a little bit here and there."

Opitz said he's doing household chores and also hoped to spend part of Tuesday getting outdoors.

"Colorado is a little weird," Opitz said of the weather. "Yesterday it snowed, and today I think I'm going to lay out and get a suntan.

"I just take what the day gives me."

Sports on 04/01/2020

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