Blake Dunn and his Western Michigan University baseball teammates were in the team locker room on Thursday, March 12, preparing for a trip to Butler University when they received word the three-day weekend series had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Later that evening, the news went from bad to worse.
“We had a team meeting at seven and Coach told us the season had been officially cancelled,” Dunn said. “We’d seen that a bunch of other conferences like the SEC and the PAC 10 had cancelled their seasons, so we knew it was a possibility for us. But it was still tough to hear.”
The Broncos had amassed a 9-6 record prior to the cancellation, including a win over USC and a 4-2 loss to a Louisville team that was ranked third in the country.
“It’s really disappointing because we had a good team this year,” said Dunn, who had a two-run double in WMU’s 3-2 victory over St. Bonaventure in what proved to be the Broncos’ final game of the season on Saturday, March 7. “We were really excited to see what we could do once we got into conference play.”
In addition to the team aspect of the season being cancelled, this was a big season for Dunn from an individual standpoint at well.
Listed on the pre-season watch list for the Golden Spikes Award—amateur baseball’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy—following a stellar sophomore campaign at WMU in 2019, Dunn has his sights set on being selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
Not that Dunn did anything to hurt his draft stock in the 15 games WMU did get to play, hitting .288 with two home runs, four doubles, 17 RBI, 15 runs and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
Still, he had hoped for a full season to showcase his talent.
“Playing professionally has always been a dream of mine, and getting drafted is the first step toward that,” Dunn said. “Obviously I would have liked the opportunity to play a full season, but I’ve talked to my advisor and he thinks I’m still in pretty good position.”
After hitting .308 with 25 runs and 18 RBI as a freshman, Dunn earned First Team All-MAC honors by leading WMU with a .374 batting average, 71 hits, 43 runs, 30 stolen bases, a .521 slugging percentage and a .467 on-base percentage last year.
That led to a stint in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, giving scouts more opportunity to evaluate him.
“(MLB) teams have had the chance to see my during my freshman and sophomore seasons at Western and then in the Cape,” Dunn said. “I was able to talk to several team and had some good discussions.”
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s draft does carry with it more uncertainty than usual.
Normally taking place in June and consisting of 40 rounds, the date for this year’s draft has yet to be finalized and the number of rounds could be as few as five and no more than 10.
“It’s going to be different this year, that’s for sure,” Dunn said. “But I’m still optimistic I’m going to hear my name called during the draft. If not, I’ll head back to Western and keep working.”
To that end, Dunn has continued to keep his body in shape and his baseball skills as sharp as possible.
Originally, he had been staying in Kalamazoo after the season was cancelled so he could use the team’s batting cages. Since gyms were closed, he would drive home to Saugatuck to lift weighs using his family’s home gym.
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implemented the stay-at-home order, Dunn returned Saugatuck for good.
Luckily, he has a convenient workout partner.
“My little brother (2019 Saugatuck graduate Brad) is a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College and is playing baseball there, so we’re able to help each other with baseball stuff,” Dunn said. “We try to get in our swings the best we can and throw with each other, doing some long toss.
“It’s nice that we have each other for that.”
And while he’d much rather be playing games for the Broncos, Dunn is also trying to find a positive in the current situation.
“This virus is a horrible, horrible thing and it’s awful that people are getting sick and losing their jobs because of it,” he said. “But one thing that’s happened is families are getting to spend more time together and people are being forced to slow down a little bit.
“It’s nice getting to spend this extra time with my brother and parents, especially at this time in our lives. I like waking up and being able to see all of them and hang out with them.”