Normally you wouldn’t sign up to have a swab jammed down your nasal passage. Or get food delivered in a bag outside your hotel room door during a 30-hour quarantine. Or submit to temperature checks every time you pass through the hall.

But three Creighton players haven’t suited up for a baseball game in three months.

Jonah Smith, Ryan Mantle and Cam Frederick could deal with a few inconveniences this week. The reward was too good to pass up.

The Bluejay trio took part in the first organized baseball game between college players since the NCAA season was canceled in March because of the pandemic. The Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational began Thursday in an empty stadium in Bryan, Texas — with ESPN2 broadcasting the action.

“You know, it doesn’t feel like it’s that big of a deal when we’re here,” Mantle said Thursday. “It’s baseball. We’ve all done this before. But it’s probably a little bit bigger than that. The first televised game (played) in America? That’s pretty sweet.”

They did their best to make the most of it.

Mantle, a senior-to-be, started at first base for CSBI Unity — he singled, drew two walks and scored a run. But his squad came up on the losing end in an 11-10 10-inning final.

Smith and Frederick advanced in the winners bracket as part of the CSBI Liberty team in the NCAA regional-style, four-team tournament.

Frederick, a Lincoln Southwest product who started at shortstop, finished 0 for 5. But Smith was lights out on the mound.

The 6-foot-2 senior from Austin, Texas, needed 21 pitches to breeze through two innings. He struck out five and retired a sixth by fielding a bunt attempt and tossing the ball to first for an out.

Smith said he spent much of the past three months in Omaha, where he made some notable improvements. He upped his fastball to the low 90s — he was even touching 95 mph Thursday night.

“I just tried to get better, as much as I could,” said Smith, who threw 14 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts for the Jays in 2020 before the pandemic ended the season. “This was a really tough thing to swallow (in March), that the season was over, that my senior year was over. But I knew I had to get to work.”

It’s possible that Smith may catch the attention of major league scouts this weekend.

The MLB draft starts Wednesday. It is only five rounds, but franchises will send out contract offers to undrafted seniors to see if they’re interested in turning pro.

Smith can also return to Creighton for one more year.

But he’s not thinking about that.

He’s trying to cherish the opportunity to play again this weekend. The trio are three of 84 participants in the invite-only event.

Smith, Frederick and Mantle all sat around a hotel room Wednesday talking about just that.

“It’s such a different experience,” Smith said. “But we were telling each other, we’re kind of bonded for life after this. This is kind of a crazy thing that we’re all a part of. But it does feel special.”


The past 10 years of Creighton baseball

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