Three former Illinois State student athletes have put their dreams on hold as they wait out the pandemic. The three Redbirds say they are trying to find new opportunities during the downtime.
John Rave of Bloomington is a baseball player. Rave said he felt things were going well in his first spring training with the Kansas City Royals in Arizona, then everything stopped.
“I made the 27-whatever-hour drive home,” Rave said. “It was crazy.”
Rave has moved back home with mom. He has to stay ready for whenever baseball resumes. He takes swings at a private batting cage and when friends can pitch to him.
“I try to stay away from people as much as possible, but still get my work in with these guys, so I feel very prepared whenever that call comes,” Rave said.
That call might not come this year. Even if Major League Baseball resumes, it would be an abbreviated season. It's not clear if minor leaguers would play at all. Rave started in the low minors last year and had hoped to move up in 2020.
“Obviously, they are a priority for their organizations and the minor leaguers are kind of on the backburner,” Rave said. “Hopefully they can figure out what they are going to do with the big leaguers and then the minor leaguers can shortly follow with what we are going to do.”
One idea baseball is considering would have teams play entirely in Arizona or Florida, possibly isolated from even their own families. Rave said he just wants to play but understands why more established players would balk at that idea.
“Those are the guys who have already made a life, made some money doing that, but then there’s the rookies just coming in to it where they want to play as many games as possible,” Rave said. “They want their shot at the big leagues just like those guys had.”
Rave said he's living off of a $300,000 signing bonus. Many minor leaguers don't have that. He said he's grateful baseball has given all minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend through the end of May.
Serving It Up Overseas
Former Redbird Jaelyn Keene was wrapping up her first pro volleyball season in Austria, preparing for a playoff match in an empty gym to observe social distancing. That's when the league abruptly shut down the season.
“We were very surprised,” Keene said after the league had banned fans from the games. “A couple days later they were like, ‘No, we are canceling this.’”
Keene said playing overseas was a struggle at first, but she adjusted to the new lifestyle and a volleyball schedule more rigorous than college.
“Once I felt it was home and once I was familiar with the area and the volleyball and changing my life in a completely new direction, then I definitely felt comfortable and I loved it,” Keene said.
The Jacksonville, Ill., native now does accounting for First Site Apartments in Normal. She said she wants to play volleyball as long as she can. Last week, she signed to play next season with a team in Finland, where the competition is tougher.
“I’m really excited. It’s going to be a lot different atmosphere and obviously the climate and culture but that’s something I’m looking forward to for sure,” Keene said.
Keene said the challenge now is to stay fit when gyms are closed.
“Not having the ability to do that, it’s been hard trying to just condition and do workouts at home and stay in good enough shape to when all of this craziness died down I’ll still be in that good enough shape,” Keene said.
Stretching Far From Routine
For Keene or any athlete trying to stay in peak condition during the pandemic, they can turn to Andrea Orris. The former Redbird gymnast and coach is a fitness instructor and gymnastics coach in Los Angeles.
When her club team canceled its season, Orris said she started live-streaming her flexibility routines on Instagram.
“I was really nervous,” Orris recalled. “I was hoping I’d have 10 people show up and it ended up being like 50 and in the next two or three classes I was up to 100 people and it just kept getting bigger and bigger.”
It was so big that it caught the attention of several Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders.
“I noticed one night one of them started following me and then three more of them followed me and then seven more of them followed me,” Orris said. “So I was like one of them must have taken my classes and liked it and then told the rest of the girls.”
Orris is a Plano, Texas, native. She now does regular private lessons for the cheerleaders and continues free tutorials online. She does suggest donations through Venmo. Orris believes the exposure has opened new doors for her once the pandemic is over.
“Going online with these classes really did blow my mind with how much positive feedback I got and how many people I got on board, loving it and wanting to participate,” Orris said.
All three former Redbirds say the pandemic has taught them to stay positive and make the most of your situation, even if it's not what you planned.
Orris added everyone can benefit from a good stretching workout; to stay flexible, reduce injury and for now just to have something to do.
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