Two Dayton Flyers back on diamond for first time since March

Dayton’s Cole Pletka

Riley Tirotta, Cole Pletka participate in Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational

No one knows if there will be a Major League Baseball season this summer. A minor-league season looks doubtful. The Prospect League and Cape Cod League are among the summer college leagues to cancel their season.

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However, last week in Bryan, Texas, two Dayton Flyers got to play live baseball for the first time since March. Riley Tirotta, a junior third baseman last season, and Cole Pletka, a senior starting pitcher, participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

The first two games Thursday were televised on ESPN2.

“I was like a little kid,” Pletka said. “My adrenaline was probably the highest it has been in years because I hadn’t played in so long. It felt so good to be able to play again. It was an awesome experience. I met a lot of good people. And the baseball was good, too. It’s just something you may never experience again: that type of adrenaline.”

“Everybody there was just grateful to play again,” Tirotta said, “and be around a bunch of guys who were all in the same position, who hadn’t played in a while. Especially getting to play on TV, it was a lot of fun.”

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Pletka pitched two scoreless innings Saturday for Team Independence and struck out Tirotta, who played for Team Unity, in his appearance. Tirotta went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in his first game Thursday.

Neither had played in a game since early March. Dayton played 14 games before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the season.

Tirotta, who’s from South Bend, Ind., and Pletka, who’s from Richmond, Texas, arrived at the event on June 1 and got tested for the coronavirus and also underwent antibody tests with the rest of the players the next morning.

“It’s not comfortable, but it’s what I had to do,” Pletka said. “It wasn’t like so bad. They pricked our finger and put a swab up our nose. It hurt for five minutes.”

Once the players got cleared to play, they had to stay confined to a bubble of sorts: the Hilton or the complex where the games and practices were held.

Both players were willing to do whatever it takes to play baseball again. For both, it was a chance to show their skills to pro scouts, who weren’t in the stands but likely were following on TV.

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Tirotta, who tied for the team lead with 41 RBIs as a sophomore in 2019, wished he had gotten that chance in the spring.

“That was my personal goal for the season,” Tirotta said. “The main goal was to win a championship at Dayton. If we had done that, I would have had a lot of opportunities to play in front of the scouts and get on everyone’s draft board.”

Pletka worked out at a facility in Houston with other pro and college players throughout the spring and was able to throw two bullpen sessions per week. Tirotta worked out at home for the first two months after the season ended and also trained with two friends. Then he moved to Cleveland, where he’s been training at the Prospect Performance Academy.

Tirotta still has a chance to get drafted this week. The first round takes place Wednesday. There will be four more rounds Thursday. The draft has been shortened from 40 rounds to five rounds, and anyone not drafted can sign as a free agent. The maximum signing bonus, however, is $20,000.

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“If I don’t get picked up, I like to think whatever happens is meant to be,” Tirotta said, “and I’ll go back to Dayton and we’ll win a championship next year.”

Pletka said he will return to UD to take advantage of his final season and to complete his degree. The NCAA voted in the spring to give athletes who lost their seasons to the pandemic another year of eligibility.

“If my season would have ended in the conference tournament or in postseason play, it’s different,” Pletka said. “It ended before I even got to play conference. That was extremely heartbreaking.”

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