Prospect League

Gems, Prospect League plan to start season on time

Quincy's Joey Polak, right, tags DuPage's Andrew Dyke out at first base at a Prospect League game at QU Stadium on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger
Katelyn Metzger 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 25, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Two weeks ago, Missouri State junior and 2016 Herald-Whig Player of the Year Joey Polak was on his way to Kansas City to catch a flight to California where the Bears were scheduled to take on UC-Irvine in a weekend series.

An hour away from the airport, Polak and the rest of his team were informed their season was suspended until April, and that was just the beginning of a whirlwind of news.

"The next day we got a text saying our season was over," Polak said. "It was kind of one of those things that was so weird. Nothing has ever happened like this in history, so we are living through something right now that's kind of just unbelievable."

While the spring season for the Bears -- and the rest of college spring athletes around the country -- was canceled on March 13, Polak did have one place to fall back on.

That's his hometown and his summer ball team in the Quincy Gems.

As of now, the Gems and the Prospect League still plan start the 2020 season on May 28, and Polak will be on the Gems' roster.

"We are still going forward," Gems owner Jimmie Louthan said. "The only thing that's going to stop the league, really, is any state mandates about a certain amount of people in an area gathering."

Typically the Gems season comes along in the middle of the Major League Baseball season and at the end of the college season, but this year the Prospect League will be in lockstep with the majors, as the MLB is planning to start in mid-May. That is, if the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been contained enough to allow play to start.

"We are kind of pumped in the fact that the MLB's opening weekend is the same weekend as ours," Louthan said.

Fears of the affects from COVID-19 shutdowns are ever-present, but Louthan isn't letting the possible future bog down his preparations.

"It's just like game day. Just because they are saying it's going to rain doesn't mean you have to halt production," Louthan said. "We are just going to keep going getting ready for the season."

Many players around the country are also concerned with their future, but Polak is grateful to have somewhere to play in the summer for now.

"I think a lot of baseball players in the country are realizing right now, ‘OK, I've got to keep my body in shape as much as I can given the stuff I have to work with,'" Polak said. "We just have to move forward. I've played for the Gems for three years. It's been a home for me, more than just living here.

"Playing for the Gems has always been a home for me with the fans and all that."

The elimination of the spring season has left a lot of players who are hopeful to play in the majors in limbo, but summer leagues like the Prospect League can provide exposure.

"I think this league and other leagues around the country are going to have an uptick in talent just because there are so many guys that haven't played a full season and they are sitting out there going, ‘Man, I really need to get my at-bats or my innings in,'" Polak said. "It's going to be an interesting summer. I think there's going to be a lot of talent throughout the Prospect League."

The Gems are anticipating higher interest, too.

"We have had a huge influx of players. The league just raised our roster from 32 to 34, just because of all these players that are coming in," Louthan said. "The seniors are getting their year of eligibility back. We just have a lot more really good players that need to be noticed."

With baseball fans around the country cooped up in self quarantine, Louthan sees a good opportunity to bring out the community if the Gems are able to continue as scheduled.

"We feel that there's going to be a bright side at the end of it just because there's no college baseball, there's no college sports, no NBA, no hockey," Louthan said. "People are going to want to get out, and we feel that hopefully this all clears up and it will be a positive for us in the long run."

Polak heads a list of Gems that plan to make their return to Quincy for another shot at the Prospect League crown, a list that includes 2019 Prospect League home run king Kyle Crowl.

"This will be both of our fourth years playing. We want to bring a title back," Polak said of he and Crowl. "We have been trying really hard the last couple of years to do it, and this is the year to do it."

One thing is for certain. It won't be Polak's last hurrah.

"I don't plan on this being my summer go-away party for playing," he said. "I've been playing for too long just to let this virus knock out my career."