After those topsy-turvy days of early March, Nathan Croner found solace in, of all things, a tweet.
Croner, a 2016 Truman High School graduate and former star pitcher for the Patriots, had his senior season at the University of Evansville yanked away by the COVID-19 pandemic just days before. He was still working out, but the anger and the frustration were overtaking him.
Then he scrolled through his phone and saw the tweet:
“If you’re still sitting on the couch complaining that your season is over, you’re just wasting your time if you're not working.”
“That kind of rang true to me,” Croner said in a phone interview from Evansville, Indiana. “I saw that tweet and I was like, ‘OK I can’t do anything about it. It’s out of my hands, I can’t control it, so I’m going to stop letting it affect me.’”
The anger is over now, especially after Croner received another senior season next year along with other spring sports athletes. But that also brought another uncertainty: will he be back in Evansville, or will he hear his name called in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft?
For now, he plans on pitching again next spring for the Purple Aces.
“I was starting to find my groove the last two starts,” Croner said. “So I was really trying to move myself up the draft boards. I guess you never know when the last time you’re going to throw is going to be, so I was just trying to keep my name out there as well as I could.”
Croner isn’t sure where he stands among pitching prospects and no major-league teams have offered any indication either. But the 6-foot-6 left-hander felt sure as his senior season began that his stock would rise.
Croner became Evansville’s Friday starter – the leadoff arm in a typical three-game weekend series. He was 1-1 in four starts with a 3.26 ERA. In his first home start against Butler, Croner went six innings and struck out 10. He lost his next start at College of Charleston, but he surrendered just one earned run over 6 ⅓ innings.
“I think that was the best I ever felt in back-to-back weeks,” Croner said.
Those would also be his last two starts of the season. A week later, the entire sports world would shut down as COVID-19 prepared to spread. Suddenly saying goodbye to teammates was heartbreaking; not knowing what the future held even worse.
“It was a rough couple of days,” Croner said. “The amount of uncertainty over that time was kind of scary – kind of terrifying because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Croner elected to stay in Evansville, where he could continue his schoolwork, work out at friend’s house and “try to pass the time as best I can.” He received some much needed clarity last Monday: that’s when the NCAA ruled that Division-I spring athletes would get another year of eligibility.
“That was a huge load off my shoulders,” Croner said. “I was sitting on the couch in my apartment and I was scrolling through Twitter every couple of minutes. I knew the meeting started at 3 (p.m.) and it was over around 5 o’clock. Once 5 o’clock rolled around I was refreshing Twitter as much as I could.”
Now that he has some certainty, Croner can see a silver lining. There’s more time now to work on strength and mechanics. And if he isn’t drafted this summer, he knows another senior season awaits.
One he doesn’t plan on taking for granted.
“I was talking to one of my best friends the other day on FaceTime, and he said he would trade a four-hour practice in 97-degree heat for anything right now,” Croner said. “He would trade it in for one more day on a baseball field.”