How the Iowa Hawkeyes turned their season around

The Iowa Hawkeyes came into the season with high hopes — at least by University of Iowa baseball standards. 

Iowa hasn’t made the College World Series in almost half a century. And I don’t think it’s likely the Hawkeyes will this year. But they have a chance, a much better chance than they had a few weeks ago.

So I wanted to write about this team before the cruel reality of the college baseball postseason washes away this feel-good story.

Iowa made the CWS just once, in 1972, losing its first two in the double-elimination event. The Iowa program dates back to 1890. In the first 100 years, Hawkeyes won eight conference titles. In the 31 years since they have not won any.

Put simply: The expectations at Iowa are not what they are at Vanderbilt, or Cal State Fullerton, or Texas. 

Reason for optimism

But the outlook for this Hawkeye baseball season was brighter than most. CF Ben Norman, C Austin Martin, and RP Grant Leonard were in their fifth or sixth year, given an extra year of eligibility after  COVD-19 wiped out much of the 2020 season. 

Peyton Williams hit 13 homers in 33 games in the Northwoods League last summer.

They had Trenton Wallace, an LHP with a live fastball, to anchor the pitching staff.

“They were part of arguably the best team of the Rick Heller era,’’ columnist Chad Leistikow wrote in the May 16 Des Moines Register. 

Heller, in his eighth season, has been one of the most successful coaches in Iowa history. The Hawkeyes have managed to make the NCAA Tournament five times, including twice under Heller 2015 and 2017.

The season started, and the Hawkeyes stumbled to a 4-8 start. After losing to Ohio State in Columbus on March 26, they had a team meeting.

Leistikow wrote that the veterans such as Martin and Wallace delivered the message.

Time to bear down? No. Time to ease up. Everybody was pressing too much.

They relaxed, and they started to win.

A lesson for us all

Since the meeting, the Hawkeyes have gone 18-8. Hawkeyecentral.com has started to calculate the team’s chances of making it to the postseason.

After the games of May 16, they are in fifth place in the 13-team Big Ten Conference. The Hawkeyes have a pair of three-game series the last two weekends of May. There is no conference tournament this season.

You have to wonder if the Hawkeyes might have gotten off to a better start if they hadn’t had so long to think about 2021, hadn’t been poised for a special season. 

As we try to rebuild our lives, many of which were torn asunder by the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures implemented to contain it, there is a temptation to put things back together twice as fast or twice as much effort as usual.  We often become prisoners of our expectations.

Sometimes it is best to ease up a bit.

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