Apr. 28—FALL CREEK — Not even the chilly weather or persistent drizzle could put a damper on the Fall Creek baseball team's spirits on Tuesday.
No, the elements — normally the Achilles' heel of spring sports teams — weren't going to bring the Crickets down. Nothing could nullify the excitement that permeated the air as they took the field.
After 700 days away, it felt good to be back.
"It feels amazing, especially after not having a season last year," Fall Creek pitcher Brandon Jaenke said. "I was really excited. We've been waiting for this a really long time, so I was looking forward to it a lot. It was just nice to get back out here and finally play some baseball."
The WIAA baseball, softball and track and field seasons began Tuesday, the first day that teams were allowed to compete in Wisconsin. It marked the return of some of the spring's most-played sports after the entire 2020 season was canceled at the beginning of the pandemic.
Spring athletics were the only high school sports to be canceled entirely. Many schools participated in the following fall season, while others postponed their fall participation but ultimately played this spring.
Spring sports were in a no-win situation, set to begin right when the pandemic emerged. Being patient was all the athletes could do.
The wait wasn't fun. But once they were back on the diamond, the Crickets had forgotten all about it.
"It was tough to be away. We did some contact days in the summer, but it was so night and day," Fall Creek coach Mike Johnson said. "We couldn't even really play catch with each other, we were just throwing at screens. So to get back out here and play a real ball game was good."
It was Fall Creek's first game since May 28, 2019.
While much of the Chippewa Valley's slate was washed out by rain Tuesday, a handful of squads were able to hit the field.
"The kids were pumped to be out here and get one under their belt," Johnson said. "After a two-year layoff, it felt pretty good to be back out here."
The result didn't go Fall Creek's way, as visiting Greenwood held off a rally to win 8-7. After falling behind 7-1, the Crickets stormed back to pull within one at 7-6 with five runs in the sixth. After Greenwood added an insurance run in the top of the seventh, the Crickets got the winning run to second base in the bottom of the frame before the comeback fizzled out.
Greenwood utilized a four-run fifth inning to build a six-run lead before Fall Creek came to life. There was a bit of rust, but also new players who normally would have gotten their first taste of varsity baseball last year.
"At first we weren't quite there, but once we got the rally going we started putting it together," Jaenke said. "We just kind of had to knock the cobwebs out, especially with some guys playing positions they're not used to and some underclassmen stepping up in big situations."
Even in defeat, the bigger picture is exciting. There will be plenty of chances to correct mistakes, improve and get on the other end of the final score.
That opportunity didn't exist last year. Having it now is a win of its own.
"We had some mistakes, some errors and missed signs. But we'll take care of that," Johnson said. "Hopefully we can learn from it."
And as for that less-than-ideal weather?
As long as the rain doesn't keep the Crickets from playing, bring it on.
"I'm not sure if the kids even knew it was raining," Johnson joked.