In some pockets of the United States, sports have carried on this summer in the midst of a global pandemic. Concordia University Baseball’s Keaton Candor made his way to one of those pockets. This particular one happens to be located in south central Kansas, home to the Sunflower Collegiate League. In Haysville, Kan., a town with just over 10,000 people, Candor has continued to hone his powerful bat.
That’s not to say that Candor and his Haysville Aviators teammates have escaped the virus. Masks are strongly recommended for players when congregating in the dugout and there have been some instances of positive COVID-19 cases within the SCL.
“It’s been crazy with the pandemic going on,” Candor said. “Everything’s changing. One day it will be no mask and the next day masks are required. I think our team has done a good job following the safety precautions. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play and to have good health.”
With many summer leagues shut down, Candor has gained an advantage in keeping sharp in the SCL, a 10-team outfit laden with strong college players. At one point in June, Candor slugged four home runs in a single week in carrying on a power surge that started back in the spring during official collegiate action. Before returning for his second year with the Aviators, Candor drilled five home runs and was slugging .764 for the Bulldogs.
Candor wanted to keep hitting, so there he was on a Wednesday in late July readying for what will be the final summer league game of the season. Since the middle of June, Candor has lived with a host family in Wichita, about 20 minutes from the home ballpark of the Aviators. The parks aren’t all top of the line, but there’s a certain charm to playing ball on patches of dirt and grass in quaint towns where the locals are happy to have sports to consume.
“I’ve always loved playing summer ball,” Candor said. “Because it will kind of sharpen you up as a player. You become a better player by getting more game reps and thinking through baseball situations. It allows you to stay sharp for when you get back in the fall. I’ve played summer ball my whole life.
“Every town from about 30 minutes around has a team (in the SCL) and they play at city fields. Every once in a while we get to play at Wichita State’s stadium, which is really fun.”
Since the summer season began, Candor has had games on most days and on occasion there have been some doubleheaders. There’s plenty of time left over for Candor to bond with his host family and hang out in Wichita. He also has made trips back to his hometown of Merrill, Iowa, located northwest of Sioux City. It’s not a bad summer at all, especially if you love baseball.
Instead of going up against Jamestown, Morningside or Northwestern, Candor has battled teams this summer with nicknames such as Diamond Dawgs, Bat Cats and Seeds. The populations of the different SCL home towns range from 928 (Andale) all the way up to 42,080 (Hutchinson). As the Field of Dreams proves, small towns are the perfect backdrop for America’s pastime.
“There’s not much to do in Haysville except go to the ballpark or stop at the QuickTrip for a snack before the game,” Candor said. “It’s definitely fun because you’ll show up to the game and all the host families will know who you are and are there to support you. I don’t think if you were in a big town you would get that same welcome. I definitely think it’s special.”
The combination of summer and baseball appeals greatly to Candor, but he will be ready to be back together with his Concordia teammates. Candor believed the Bulldogs were in a great position to contend for another GPAC championship and national tournament bid this past spring. He attributes the close-knit atmosphere to his personal success in 2020.
Says Candor, “Having a family within the team brings out the best in people. Unfortunately it was a short season where I kind of figured it out. I think summer ball helped me stay the course and get back to how I was feeling in the spring. With our team atmosphere, you could just be who you are as a person and who you are as player. I think that’s why I had success.”
Through a connection with his oldest brother Tyler, Keaton has found a summer home with the Aviators. In doing so, he managed to extend his baseball season while many sports around the world went dark. If things go as hoped, Candor will be back to mashing home runs at Plum Creek Park come the spring of 2021.