The NBA ‘bubble’ has gotten a lot of attention this summer as has the MLB lack of a ‘bubble,’ but a pair of former Bearcats have found their opportunity to play in the Pecos League ‘bubble’ in Houston.
“The league has been great,” said former Northwest Missouri State shortstop Logan Rycraft. “They did a great job of just being able to get us on the field. … It has been perfect, action-packed, and we are getting to play a lot of games. It has be great so far.”
Hudson Bilodeau and Rycraft began their coaching careers this spring with the Northwest Missouri State baseball team this year, but that doesn’t mean the starting catcher and starting shortstop from the 2018 MIAA Championship team are ready to take off their gloves for good.
Both Bearcats have been in Houston since June 20 participating in the Pecos League. The independent league has cut down to four teams and is playing all of its games in one park in Houston with doubleheaders most days.
“We talk about it down here every day,” Bilodeau said. “We are just blessed to be down here and blessed to be playing baseball right now.
“Some of the days down here seem like a bit of a grind with the heat and humidity, but we look at each other and realize that there are a lot of people out of jobs right now and a lot of people who can’t play baseball. We just try and not take it for granted.”
Bilodeau is playing with the Salina Stockade (12-9) while Rycraft is playing with the Roswell Invaders (7-14). The Stockade sit in second place while the Invaders are third.
Bilodeau says it hasn’t been hard to buy into the safety precautions.
“Everybody is respecting the game enough to where everybody is in their own bubble,” Bilodeau said. “Everyone is staying safe and using precautionary stuff, wearing masks, not going out when they don’t need to, and we’ve done a great job of it so far, keeping this thing going, keeping everybody healthy and safe.”
With only four teams playing, Rycraft and Bilodeau have seen a lot of each other on the field, but they’ve seen even more of each other after the games as the two Bearcats and two of Bilodeau’s teammates went in together on a place to live in Houston.
“Now we have the friendly banter and the chatter around the house and on the field,” Bilodeau said. “We are just competing against each other. I enjoyed playing with the kid, but playing against him, it is pretty fun too.”
Bilodeau, the lead-off hitter and First-Team All-MIAA selection for Northwest in 2018, is off to a strong start in Houston with a .341 batting average and 12 extra-base hits in 21 games.
Rycraft has played in 19 games and is hitting .271 with a .415 on-base percentage.
“Baseball will come to an end the day that you become stagnant,” Rycraft said. “… Showing up to the field with the same mind set: Somebody’s career has got to end and it is not going to be mine.”
Rycraft is a rookie in the Pecos League this year while Bilodeau played in the league two years ago before missing last season with an injury.
They have seen the competition improve as the season has gone on with many major league clubs cutting some of their minor leaguers after the minor league seasons were cancelled due to COVID-19. Rycraft’s Invaders have picked up two minor leaguers with Diamondback prospect Ian Yetsko and Stephen Keller from the Reds’ organization.
“The league is now — it’s stacked to say the least,” Rycraft said.
Both players are eyeing a championship in the coming weeks as the regular season wraps up and the playoffs start.
“Individually, whatever I have to do to get this team to a championship,” Rycraft said. “That is always my goal. Whatever team I play for, I want us to win a championship.”
After this season ends, both are planning on returning to Maryville. Rycraft is nearing his degree and is set to finish that up this next year while continuing to chase his baseball dream.
“I have a couple classes I have to finish up and there is no way I’m going to leave Northwest without a degree,” Rycraft said.
Rycraft was a student assist with the Bearcats last year and isn’t sure if he plans to remain on the staff this season, but he is very focused on continuing to play next spring and summer.
“I want to keep playing,” Rycraft said. “It is a dream that I want to keep doing until someone tells me I can’t. And then odds are, when they tell me I can’t do it anymore I’m still going to try to prove them wrong. They are going to have to have to tell me twice.”
Bilodeau was a graduate assistant last season, returning to Maryville despite only playing one season at Northwest, but coming to Missouri from California, he fell in love with the community.
“I can’t explain how blessed I was for that opportunity and how that opportunity changed my whole life, my baseball career, everything. I owe Coach (Darin) Loe and Coach (Mike) Creason — and Northwest and Maryville — I owe them everything. It is literally one of the main reasons I am where I am today.
“I fell in love with the school. I fell in love with the town. Coming from a place like San Diego, I came to Northwest and I fell in love with Maryville in one year. … It is one of those towns that really grabs you and you don’t want to leave, you want to find an excuse to stay there. I was blessed with a great opportunity from Coach Loe and Coach Creason, and the puzzle pieces fell in place.”