Jake Reinhardt, a pitcher, had not played a baseball game in about a year. That’s a long time without baseball for a baseball player.
Then, when the time he had long waited for — the chance to finally play in a game again — had arrived, he was put at, would you believe it, first base.
With some players still not having arrived from their college teams, the Riverhead Tomcats were short players for their season-opening game on May 31. That is how Reinhardt ended up wearing a first baseman’s glove in the 3-1 loss to the North Fork Ospreys.
“He swung the best in BP,” Tomcats manager Randy Caden said. “That’s why he got the start [at first base]. He said, ‘Hey, Coach, I’ll help you out.’ So I liked him from day one.”
What Caden must also like is what Reinhardt has done since then as a pitcher.
The red-shirt sophomore from the University of Iowa had the second-lowest earned run average in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League entering Tuesday’s games at 0.44. He was 0-1 with two saves. Over 20 2/3 innings, he had allowed 16 hits, walked seven and struck out 16.
As good as those numbers are, they are not the whole story. Because of a knee injury, Reinhardt was forced to sit out this past college season. After lifting weights one day, he was stretching to reduce soreness when he injured the meniscus in his right knee.
“I pulled my leg too far into my chest and it just popped,” he said. “I couldn’t move it or anything. It just locked up. It hurt real bad. I couldn’t walk or anything like that, so I knew something was wrong.”
Reinhardt underwent surgery this past December, worked through physical rehabilitation and is happy to be back on the field again.
“There’s nothing better,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Reinhardt, who has a fastball, a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, has done some starting and relief work for the Tomcats. He has excelled at keeping runners off the bases and allowing his teammates to make good plays behind him.
“I just want to try and get back to where I was before I got hurt because I had a good fall, and I want to be able to work towards earning a starting position as a weekend starter back at school, so I think this is a steppingstone toward that,” said Reinhardt.
On Saturday, Reinhardt pitched three and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief in a 5-2 loss to the Shelter Island Bucks, giving up two hits. He walked one and fanned five.
Reinhardt has been encouraged by his season so far.
“Yeah, it gives me some confidence,” he said. “Actually, coming off of an injury like that, you kind of don’t know what to expect and how your body is going to hold up after that. After that first time out there again I felt pretty good.”
For Reinhardt, a resident of Des Moines, playing NCAA Division I baseball for Iowa was a dream come true. He grew up a Hawkeyes fan, with both of his parents having gone to Iowa. Iowa’s in-state rival, Iowa State, wasn’t a consideration for him, beyond the fact that baseball is a club sport at Iowa State.
Reinhardt said he is enjoying his first trip to the east coast.
“As far as my command and all that stuff,” he said, “I feel like I still have a lot to work on, but I’ve learned to just trust what I have right now and work off of that.”