After the final out was recorded in Bradley’s 7-4 loss to Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on May 21, the playing season was far from over for much of head coach Elvis Dominguez’s squad.
Sixteen players listed on the Braves’ roster continued their play on collegiate summer baseball teams across the country.
After the conclusion of the collegiate campaign players from every level are often assigned by their coaches to extend their seasons in a summer league. Bradley had athletes in eight leagues, spanning from the Western Baseball Association in California, to the Coastal Plain League in the Carolinas.
“Position player wise, it is a must, because you get over 100 at-bats, and get to play every single day, so guys who aren’t playing as much in the spring can go out and develop their skills on a daily basis,” Dominguez said.
Junior catcher Keaton Rice played in what is widely regarded as the most prestigious summer league of all: the Cape Cod League.
“[This summer was] very eye-opening, just seeing all the other good talent out there and comparing myself to them,” Rice said.
Rice served as backup catcher for the Chatham Anglers, coached by Tom Holliday, father of former MLB star Matt Holliday.
In 23 games played, Rice hit .214 with a .340 on-base percentage along with six RBIs.
“I would’ve liked to do better when I was there. I kind of struggled with the bat a little bit, but I learned a lot about my swing and what I can do defensively,” Rice said. “[I’m bringing] what I learned there and I’m gonna teach all these guys [at Bradley].”
Watching from afar, Dominguez isn’t too concerned with summer statistics.
“It’s more of a developmental kind of deal, so I don’t get caught up in the numbers, per say,” Dominguez said.
Senior relief pitcher Theo Denlinger made his presence known throughout the summer in the Northwoods League. While serving as closer for the Madison Mallards, Denlinger finished second in the league with 12 saves, while posting a team-best 1.75 ERA in 25 appearances.
For his efforts, the right-handed flamethrower was named to the mid-season and postseason all-star teams.
“[Summer ball] has benefited me in every way possible,” Denlinger said. “Making the all-star team got me a lot of good exposure.”
A Wisconsin native, Denlinger played his summer home games just an hour and a half from his hometown of Cuba City.
“I went to [Madison College] before I went to Bradley and I always heard of the Mallards and went to a few games, so it’s always been on my bucket list or a dream of mine to go and play for them,” Denlinger said.
The Mallards led the Northwoods League in attendance, routinely drawing over 6,000 fans every home game, setting up a big stage for Denlinger late in games.
“It’s a little intense, but I love it so much. I come in and close the game down, and everybody’s cheering and going crazy, so it definitely pumps me up and gets me ready to go,” Denlinger said.
While summer ball competition benefits Bradley players when they return to regular season play in the spring, it could certainly benefit them even further later in their careers.
“Guys are not used to playing that long a year, and you get a lot of guys that just wear down, and [the summer] just beats them up,” Dominguez said. “But, you wanna play pro ball? This is what it takes.”